NORTHERN IRELAND ASSEMBLY
Tuesday 11 March 2008
The Assembly met at 10.30 am (Mr Speaker in the Chair).
Members observed two minutes’ silence.
Mr Storey: On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Will you rule on the issue of statements being made by Ministers to the House, particularly in regard to notification to Members? I am aware of the Standing Order that states that the Speaker must be given two and a half hours’ notice before a statement is made. I understand that Members should have a copy of the statement before it is made by the relevant Minister. I came into the Chamber at 10.29 am, and the Education Minister’s statement was not in Members’ pigeonholes, the Business Office or the Rotunda. It makes it extremely difficult for Members to have a detailed analysis of what will be said if they are left in the dark.
Mr Speaker: There have been occasions when Ministers, for various reasons, have been unable to make statements available by the time they are ready to speak. Ministers do not have to make statements available as soon as they stand up to speak. However, statements should be made available to Members as soon as possible. It is up to the Minister to say why this statement was not available.
Discovery of Official Documents at Camlough
Mr Speaker: I have received notice from the Minister of Education that she wishes to make a statement regarding the discovery of official documents near a council amenities facility at Camlough.
The Minister of Education (Ms Ruane): Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. I apologise to Members: the statement is on its way. I was making some last-minute changes to it, and I understand that it is either outside or is being photocopied as I speak. I thank the Speaker for giving me the time to make my statement.
With permission, I wish to advise the Assembly of the circumstances surrounding the discovery of official documents near a Newry and Mourne District Council amenities facility at Camlough and of the subsequent action taken by the Southern Education and Library Board (SELB) and the PSNI to investigate the matter.
The PSNI investigation identified that the documents originated from the former residence of a past employee of the board’s education welfare service in Camlough.
The welfare officer concerned left the Southern Board in 1989. At that time, it was customary for welfare officers to work from home, but officers leaving the service were expected to return all files and documentation to the senior education welfare officer for the area. That clearly did not happen in this case.
Tharla sé seo mar thoradh ar ghlanadh áiléir a bhí á dhéanamh ag an duine a chónaíonn ansin anois. Bhí na cáipéisí seo a n–aistriú go suíomh áiseanna Chamlocha, nach bhfuil ach achar goirid ar shiúil.
The incident occurred after the current resident of the property cleared the attic. The documents in question were being transported to the Camlough amenities site, which is a short distance from the property. When the documents were returned to the board, the chief education welfare officer reviewed them and confirmed that they were the working papers of a former education welfare officer in Camlough. They related to the period 1965-1974 and recorded education welfare issues associated with pupils who attended several schools in the area at the time. It was clearly unacceptable that sensitive material of that kind remained in the possession of an individual who had left the service many years previously and that it had been stored in a private dwelling. The chief education welfare officer subsequently contacted previous members of the welfare service to confirm that they no longer held any board documentation.
I am concerned that the public representatives who are involved have confirmed to the chief executive of the Southern Education and Library Board that they had facilitated the media in photographing some of those documents. I assure the Assembly and the wider public that all the papers that were returned to the board have been destroyed securely in accordance with the board’s disposal of records schedule; however, concerns still remain about where the files were sent. We are currently working to establish the number of files that were copied, with an aim to ensuring that they are all destroyed. I have instructed the permanent secretary of my Department to write to the media outlets to which those files were sent.
Lena chois sin, léirigh an fiosrú nach féidir an tarlú seo a chur i leith duine ar bith de fhoireann reatha Bhord Oideachais agus Leabharlainne an Deiscirt, ná níor sáraíodh na nósanna imeachta reatha ar stóráil agus diúscairt cáipéisí den chineál seo.
The investigation has shown that the incident is not attributable to any of the current staff of the Southern Education and Library Board and that there has been no breach of the current procedures for the storage and disposal of documents of this kind. The Southern Education and Library Board has made strenuous efforts to trace individuals who were named in those papers; however, so far they have been able to trace only one. The board wrote to that person last week to explain what had happened and to advise them that all the documents have been recovered and destroyed securely. The letter also expressed the board’s regret for any distress that may have been caused.
To observe confidentiality, the board was able to use only the services for which it has responsibility. It made use of its education and welfare service, along with the electoral register and telephone book records. Under current procedures, such incidents simply should not happen; nevertheless, I have written to other education and library boards — and other main education bodies — stressing the importance of ensuring that they comply with data protection rules and of making sure that no other similar material has been retained inappropriately. I have also stressed to them that this is a serious matter, and I am anxious to ensure that they take the necessary steps immediately to guard against any possible recurrence. I have instructed that they therefore carry out a thorough check to ensure that all official documents are held securely and that they are disposed of properly in accordance with agreed disposal schedules. They have been asked to provide written assurance to the Department of Education (DE) by 28 March 2008 that those checks have been carried out.
Tá na cáipéisí seo laistigh de raon an Achta um Chosaint Sonraí, agus mar phríomhchuid de sin níor cheart taifid a choinneáil ar feadh tréimhse níos faide ná an tréimhse lena mbaineann siad go nádúrtha. Mar sin de, ba cheart na cáipéisí seo a lot go sábháilte roinnt mhaith blianta ó shin.
The documents in question fall within the ambit of the Data Protection Act 1998, a key principle of which is that records should not be held beyond the period of their natural relevance. As such, those documents should have been disposed of securely many years ago.
Confidentiality considerations are also relevant in circumstances where an individual — by whatever means — comes into possession of official documents of a sensitive or personal nature.
The material should be returned immediately to the relevant authority and not transmitted or copied to third parties. Go raibh maith agat.
Mr Storey: I thank the Minister for making a statement to the House. She referred to:
“the board’s disposal of records schedule.”
Will she confirm that all education and library boards have such a schedule?
In the Minister’s first statement to the House on this matter, she said:
“As a result, the Department is formally auditing its own processes — including the arrangements for the collection, recording, storage, retrieval, access, transmission of, sharing and management of electronic and hard copy data and information.” — [Official Report, Bound Volume 27, p411, col 1].
Will the Minister detail the findings of that audit? What steps have been taken to implement solutions to any identified difficulties to ensure that a similar problem will not occur in another board area?
Ms Ruane: I have been informed that all the boards have schedules.
In addition to the public bodies, the SELB is carrying out a detailed review of its arrangements for the security of data. A contractor has been instructed to install a wire frame with three access doors at the basement storage area of headquarters, where contractors will also install door access systems and fireproof locks at both entrances. On completion of that work, fobs will be issued to staff who require access to the basement storage area. Each head of Department has been asked to detail where files are stored, confirm an adequate security level and verify compliance with the disposal of records schedule.
Tenders will be issued for security software to encrypt all desktops, laptops and mobile phones. Purchase orders will be issued for software to prohibit access to any external devices that are not secured by an approved level of encryption. Software will be purchased to monitor and audit staff acceptance of organisational policies, including acceptable usage and record management policies. Further software will be purchased to facilitate the extension of online training courses for staff on data protection, freedom of information and information security.
Furthermore, the chief education welfare officer is working with human resources and colleagues in the education welfare service to draw up a list of former colleagues. They will be contacted to ensure that they do not possess any documentation on the service. A former chief education welfare officer stated that the practice in the 1980s was that, on leaving service, officers gave all files and documentation to the senior education welfare officer for the area. Staff from the education welfare service are visiting former offices to confirm that no documentation was left behind when staff were relocated.
The chief education welfare officer is drawing up details of the location and security of all education welfare files to ensure that all are stored in a secure environment. When the SELB’s information management officer contacted the Office of the Information Commissioner, he was advised that it was important for the board to recover all the documentation that was found at Camlough, including photographs and any other electronic copies or photographs of the documents.
The Public Record Office in the North has requested that it be advised of the investigation’s findings, as the records concerned come under the Public Records Act 1923. I share Mr Storey’s concern; there must be no recurrence of such an incident. It is essential that all boards follow the relevant procedures, and I have instructed my permanent secretary to write to them to that effect.
Mr Brady: Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. Does the Minister agree that the action of certain elected representatives in dealing with the discovery of the papers was, to say the least, insensitive and irresponsible, particularly as one is a former teacher and should have known better? The people and families involved have contacted me, and the incident has caused them great stress. Go raibh maith agat.
Ms Ruane: As elected representatives, we must observe the highest standards. This is a sensitive issue, and some families are very concerned about it. My Department has done — and will continue to do — everything that it can to ensure that the difficulties for the families that are involved are minimised.
In my previous statement on the matter, I expressed concern that, although the documents were found on a Thursday or Friday, they were not handed over to the board until the following Monday morning and afternoon. It is inappropriate for public documents such as those to have been in the hands of certain individuals for so long.
I accept that the ultimate responsibility lies with the boards and that those documents should not have been found in that way. Nevertheless, some elected representatives have questions to answer about their role in the matter. I understand that an investigation about various aspects of the issue is ongoing, so I will not pre-empt that. I also expressed concerns that some documents were passed to the media, but I have nothing further to add on that matter.
Mr Kennedy: I welcome the Minister’s statement. The incident caused considerable alarm and distress in the Camlough area. It also gave rise to what might be called a political skirmish; indeed, one that continues to rattle.
Will the Minister confirm whether, as a result of the incident, any new procedures have been implemented? Such new procedures should have particular regard to how officers in area library boards, or in the Department, treat the information with which they have been dealing once they leave their employment. Is the Minister satisfied that all current and former staff are aware of their responsibilities in the handling of sensitive information? Finally, can the Minister confirm whether the PSNI investigations on the matter have been concluded?
Ms Ruane: As the Member said, the episode has caused distress, and I apologise to the individuals who are involved. We will ensure that we retain the utmost confidentiality in our handling of those sorts of documents, particularly those of such sensitivity.
In my response to Mervyn Storey, I outlined the new procedures that are in place, and I explained the actions that we are taking. As the Member will know, all public bodies across all Departments are examining the way in which they store data.
The Department takes this issue seriously. Everyone who works in the Department is aware of the distress that has been caused, and they are aware of the seriousness of the matter and of the impact that such incidents can have on families. I have had regular discussions with the Department’s permanent secretary, and we are ensuring that every member of staff is aware of procedures. Robust measures on the storage and disposal of files are being implemented. The Member also knows that we work with our colleagues in the health authorities on the appropriate sharing of certain files.
The PSNI investigated the matter. After being informed of the incident on Monday 18 February, it commenced an investigation and confirmed to the internal audit officers of the boards that no further documents had been identified. The PSNI prepared a report, and, as far as I know, as regards the remit of the education and library boards, it has completed its investigation.
Mr D Bradley: Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. Although it may not suit public bodies to be held to account in this way, this matter is clearly in the public interest. The public has a right to know how confidential files are stored, or indeed, neglected. Public representatives like me have a duty to inform the public while maintaining confidentiality, which is precisely what I did.
Is the Minister aware that email correspondence that is pertinent to a case that is being pursued by a former staff member against an education and library board mysteriously went missing and was not available when the staff member requested it, thus warranting the employment of an IT expert, at the behest of the industrial court, to help recover the said correspondence? Does the Minister agree with me that the incident demonstrates the need for an independent review of storage and security of information across all of the education and library boards?
Ms Ruane: I accept that it is in the public interest for such matters to be made known. Where I differ from the Member is on the way in which the matter was made public. It is important that elected representatives and people in a position to deal with sensitive issues always do so appropriately. That was a sensitive issue and had a huge effect on people who were going through difficulties at key moments in their lives. There are more appropriate ways to put information in the public domain. For example, it should have been given to the education and library board much sooner and should not have been given to media outlets to photograph. That was totally inappropriate. I trust that the Member accepts that. If it were ever to happen again, I trust that documents would not be put in the public domain in the same way.
With regard to the case that the Member mentioned, I am not aware that emails have gone missing mysteriously. I do not want to comment on a matter of which I am not aware. It is more important that the Assembly deal with the matter in hand and the statement that I have made on the files. I believe that I answered the Member’s question on a review of storage when I responded to Mervyn Storey and Danny Kennedy. Go raibh maith agat.
Ms Lo: On several occasions during my previous employment as a social worker, I liaised with education welfare officers whose main remit was to deal with non-attendance at school. Often, their reports are highly confidential, because they involve families’ backgrounds, financial situations, marital status, relationships and so on. It is incredible that such confidential files were not identified as missing by the board for such a long time. Can the Minister assure the House that there are systems and structures in place to keep a check on the whereabouts of such files at all times?
Ms Ruane: I absolutely accept and agree with the Member’s comments. It is unacceptable that the situation has happened. I apologise again to the families who have suffered. The Department is putting in place robust systems for checks and balances in relation to files. The Member will be aware from her previous work that appropriate sharing of files takes place between Departments when necessary. It is essential that the Health Department and the Education Department work together. My Department is striving to put in place the most robust system possible.
Mr Ross: I thank the Minister for her statement. How long are these types of documents generally held, either on computer or hard copy, before they are destroyed? Is it still common practice for some employees to take home sensitive documents? When did the individual concerned cease to be a board employee? Does he or she have any criminal convictions?
Ms Ruane: With regard to the Member’s first question, I have been informed that files should be kept for 25 years. They may be kept for a longer period in certain cases. I can send the Member written details of that.
In some cases, education welfare officers work on files at home, but procedures are in place whereby the files must be stored and disposed of. I ask the Member to repeat his third question.
Mr Ross: When did the individual concerned cease to be a member or employee of the board? Does that individual have any criminal convictions?
Ms Ruane: I am not aware of whether the individual has any criminal convictions. I want to be careful about what I say, so I will send the Member the appropriate information in response to his question.
Mr O’Dowd: Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. The issue rests on responsibility. The individual charged with the responsibility of looking after the files containing personal details of children and their families failed in that responsibility. Those elected representatives who obtained the files failed in their responsibilities. I agree with Mr Dominic Bradley that any elected representative would have brought the matter to media and public attention — and rightly so — but how that is done is important. It is irresponsible of any elected representative to fax the most personal details of neighbours and constituents to media organisations —
Mr Speaker: Will the Member ask a question, please?
Mr O’Dowd: I will come to the question. Although I respect the freedom of the press, has any of those media organisations agreed to return the documents to the board? I acknowledge that the Minister has apologised three times today for the actions of the board, and perhaps it would be helpful if those elected representatives who distributed the documents also apologised for their actions.
Ms Ruane: The chief executive of the board or the internal audit team — I am not sure which — has written to the media outlets to request the return of the faxed and photographed documents. I instructed my permanent secretary to write to the media because I take my responsibility seriously, and it is important that the media respect the sensitivity of those documents and return them.
Mr McCausland: I have personal experience of information about a family member being copied from records in further education. Therefore, I understand the distress caused in this case. The difference in my own case was that the information turned up on a computer disk in the possession of Sinn Féin.
The Minister mentioned that “a number of schools” were affected. Can she give a specific number? To which sectors do those schools belong? Are there still occasions when documents are removed from education and library board premises, and what is the policy on such situations?
Ms Ruane: A couple of different schools were involved, and I do not want to say any more. I will send the Member a letter with the appropriate information. Perhaps the Member will repeat his second question?
Mr McCausland: Are there still occasions when documents are removed from education and library board premises and what is the policy on such situations?
Ms Ruane: Sometimes documents are taken off the premises to share information with the appropriate health authorities, and the boards’ clear policies on that state that those documents must be returned to a senior welfare officer.
Mr Speaker: I want to inform Members that copies of the Minister’s statement are now available outside the House.
Mr B McCrea: I note the Minister’s apology, and I thank her for it: it is welcome and appreciated. No system is fail-safe. I am sure that this will not be the last incident of data falling into inappropriate hands, and rather than hang people out to dry it is important that the Assembly establish protocols to ensure that lessons are learned.
The issue of electronic communication is more pertinent now than in the past. It concerns me that most emails are not encrypted. People think that an email goes from A to B, but it does not. It goes all round the world and can be “sniffed” — which is the technical term. What is the Department of Education’s email policy? Are emails routinely disposed of after a certain period of time? Are emails that are sent between the various agencies encrypted?
Ms Ruane: I agree with the Member that no system is fail-safe. We have to try to implement the most robust procedures to ensure that the system is as safe as possible. If any good can come from this episode, it will be that more robust procedures will be put in place. It is important for us and the boards to learn lessons from what happened, and to work together in best practice in the future.
The Member will know that I am not an expert on encryption. We have asked for details of where files are stored and to be given a guarantee that security levels are adequate. Tenders have been invited for security software to encrypt all desktops, which also includes emails, laptops and mobile phones. Purchase orders have been issued for software that prohibits access to external devices that are not secured by the approved level of encryption. Software to monitor and audit staff acceptance of organisational policies, including acceptable usage and record management policies, will also be purchased. Furthermore, software will be purchased for the extension of online staff training courses in data protection, freedom of information and information security.
Mrs M Bradley: In light of the further revelations in the Chamber today about the SELB’s mishandling of information, does the Minister have confidence in its investigation into the loss of files at Camlough?
Ms Ruane: I feel that I have answered that question; no system is fail-safe and we must try to put robust procedures in place. I want to put it on record that the SELB has conducted a thorough investigation, and follow-up actions will be taken. It is key for all the boards to share practices when handling sensitive information, and the Department will also take the lead in doing that.
Mr McLaughlin: Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. The Minister has appropriately apologised to the families that have been affected by the files’ being lost, and she has acknowledged the critical importance of protecting the confidentiality of the information that is held by the boards. I hope that Mr Dominic Bradley takes the opportunity to apologise for adding to the trauma of those families.
Given that the files are 19 years old, will the Minister consider issuing a directive for all former board members to be advised of the necessity to check for any documents that they may have in their possession?
The person who had possession of the documents in question probably did not read them, did not revisit them and did not realise their significance. Therefore, perhaps former board members should be alerted to the possibility that they may possess documents that should be safely disposed of.
Ms Ruane: Absolutely; I will consider that. The SELB has contacted, or is in the process of contacting, all of its former members. It is important that documents with sensitive information be protected.
Mrs D Kelly: Will the Minister give way?
Ms Ruane: No, I will not give way.
As I told the House on 18 February, what caused further distress to many of those affected was the fact that the language used in some of the files would not be used today when talking about such sensitive issues.
Mr K Robinson: I thank the Minister for her statement. I notice that this incident came to light when the current residents of a private dwelling were clearing out their attic.
In this case an employee of the Southern Education and Library Board had previously lived in that dwelling. There might be many instances, given the time lag here, whereby people have passed on in the interim and there might be undiscovered documents in the attics of other private dwellings. Is there a method by which the board and the Minister can ensure that there is nothing else lurking in an attic that will later come to light? In addition, having worked for that board for some time, I know the geographical spread of the schools and the board’s staff, and I can understand the difficulty that they had at that time. Will the Minister also ensure that those families that have not yet been contacted vis-à-vis the current incident will be contacted and that there will be an urgent pursuit, so to speak, of those individuals so that their minds can be put at rest?
Ms Ruane: I will certainly pass to the board and to my permanent secretary the comments that you made in the first part of your statement. Concerning geographical spread: I do not want to be naming the schools affected because that would further compound the issue. However, the board is doing everything it can to identify and contact the families concerned, to offer them support and to inform them about the incident. That is difficult given that people have moved on or have changed their names. The board also has to deal appropriately with sensitive information, and it is difficult to start contacting other bodies to ask whether they are aware of x, y or z. The board will not do that because that would cause further distress to families. Nevertheless, the board is continuing to do everything possible.
Mr Attwood: I share the comments of Mr McCausland because in a previous phase of our history, I had the police at my door advising me that papers that I had sent to British Government Ministers had been stolen, photocopied and used for improper purposes. I, therefore, understand the sensitivity that surrounds papers going missing and the use to which they could be put. I want to correct a matter that is fundamental to this issue and which neither the Minister nor any of her colleagues seem to want to put on record. When this matter arose, my colleague Mr Bradley behaved completely responsibly —
Mr Speaker: Order. The Member is not in the position to be correcting. I am really looking for questions on the ministerial statement. I know that questions have many legs but we need to come to the question — [Laughter.]
Mr Attwood: I am pleased, Mr Speaker, to comply with that direction. The Minister said:
“I have instructed the permanent secretary of my Department to write to the media outlets to which those files were sent.”
Does the Minister not already know — if from nowhere else but the board — that only one media outlet was contacted by Mr Bradley? Is the Minister not already aware that that media outlet — ‘The Irish News’— photographed and then blanked out the details of that document, and has already informed the Information Commissioner that those photographs have been destroyed? Under all those circumstances, will the Minister explain to this House and to the wider public why she is creating an improper scare by saying that her permanent secretary is writing:
“to the media outlets to which those files were sent”
when she knows, or should already know, the truth of this matter?
Ms Ruane: I have instructed my permanent secretary to write to the media. I understand that there was another media outlet from which someone was reading and making comments about the files. I did not name the media outlets: the Member did. However, I have asked my permanent secretary to write to any media outlets that did report that matter because I need absolute clarification about what has happened.
Mr Boylan: Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. Mr Bradley used the term confidentiality — it is a pity that he did not employ confidentiality in the way that he dealt with the matter. Is the Minister aware that there is an on-going investigation by Newry and Mourne District Council into the matter and that the bulk of the documentation was removed from a site, which is contrary to council policy? Go raibh maith agat.
Ms Ruane: I am aware that Newry and Mourne District Council has an ongoing investigation. I await the outcome of that, and I do not want to say anything that might pre-empt its findings.
Mr Dallat: As a former teacher, I fully appreciate the sensitivity of documents of that nature. As a Member of this Assembly, I also claim to have had my name on that famous laptop.
Does the Minister not agree that 19 years is a long time to get those files back into safe custody? In more recent times, in a paperless world, in which laptops with very sensitive information have gone missing, surely the Minister is not advocating that elected representatives should grant infinite time to cover up the mistakes of the past? Does she not agree that it is entirely appropriate that elected representatives highlight those issues, so that she can put procedures in place to ensure that that type of scandal never happens again?
Ms Ruane: I have already acknowledged that it is unacceptable that the files went missing. I have apologised in respect of my responsibility in the matter. I asked SELB to carry out an investigation, and I am reporting the findings of that investigation to the Assembly. I am taking responsibility because this is a very important issue.
It is appropriate that elected representatives should raise issues of public interest. Where I differ from the Member is in that I believe that the way in which sensitive information is photocopied, faxed and sent to media outlets by elected representatives is unacceptable. Rather than continually digging holes, people should accept where wrongdoing occurs and move forward. In order to deal with those issues, we all need to learn from them and move forward.
Mr Attwood: On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Further to Mr Storey’s earlier point of order, it is my understanding that when a Minister makes a statement to the House, copies of it must be available outside the Assembly or in Members’ pigeonholes, as the Minister rises. That is my understanding of what is good practice and precedent. Questions to the Minister concluded at 11.10 am, yet copies of the statement were not available until 30 minutes after the Minister first rose.
I ask you, Mr Speaker, to make a ruling on what is required with regard to ministerial statements, and whether they must be available to Members as a Minister rises to his or her feet.
Mr Speaker: Order. I thank the Member for his point of order. It would certainly be ideal, and good practice, if copies of a ministerial statement were available to Members as soon as the Minister rises to his or her feet to deliver that statement. Unfortunately, on occasion, that does not happen. Perhaps the Member should refer his remarks to the Committee on Procedures. It is up to the Minister in question to explain to the House why the statement has not been made available.
Report on the Inquiry into the Devolution of Policing and Justice Matters
Mr Speaker: The Business Committee has agreed to allow up to three hours for this debate. The proposer of the motion will have 15 minutes to propose and 15 minutes for the winding-up speech. All other Members who wish to speak will have up to seven minutes.
The Chairperson of the Assembly and Executive Review Committee (Mr Spratt): I beg to move
That this Assembly approves the report of the Assembly and Executive Review Committee relating to the devolution of policing and justice matters, and agrees that, as required by section 18 of the Northern Ireland (St Andrews Agreement) Act 2006, it should be submitted to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, before 27 March 2008, as a report of the Northern Ireland Assembly.
Mr Speaker, I also beg your indulgence, and that of Members, as I find myself in a somewhat unusual position today. As you announced in the Chamber last week, I have assumed the role of Chairperson of the Assembly and Executive Review Committee as successor to my friend the Rt Hon Jeffrey Donaldson the Member for Lagan Valley, who is the newly appointed junior Minister in the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister.
My appointment came after the Committee had completed its deliberations and ordered that its report be printed, and so some might wonder whether it is appropriate for me to seek to guide Members through the detail of the report. However, such is life in politics, and I have learnt quickly. I have studied the report in great detail, and, although I have yet to chair a meeting of the Committee, I have spoken informally to Committee members and also to my predecessor.
It was immediately apparent to me that the former Chairperson, his Deputy Chairperson and all the members have been diligent in their work. It is very obvious that they have spent considerable time conducting an extensive inquiry into devolution of policing and justice matters. The fact that the report is published in two volumes is some measure of the evidence that the Committee gathered and considered in the course of its work.
We must bear in mind is that this report has been prepared in accordance with the terms of section 18 of the Northern Ireland (St Andrews Agreement) Act 2006. As the report’s executive summary acknowledges:
“Making progress on the devolution of policing and justice powers has proved to be deeply emotive, and highly sensitive; it has posed a significant, and often politically difficult, challenge over a considerable period of time.”
Members will be aware that the matter was considered previously by the Committee on the Preparation for Government and by the Committee on the Programme for Government in the run up to restoration in May 2007. Following restoration, the Assembly resolved that the task of preparing a report on progress towards the devolution of policing and justice should be a matter for the Assembly and Executive Review Committee.
The Committee wasted no time. At its meeting on 12 June 2007, it agreed to conduct a formal inquiry in order to prepare such a report. The six components of the terms of reference for the inquiry can be found on page 8 of the report. I want to deal with each of those components in turn. I also expect that Members will find it helpful if I put the report into context.
In February 2006, the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) published a discussion paper entitled ‘Devolving Policing and Justice in Northern Ireland’. It seemed an eminently sensible first step to invite officials from the NIO to brief the Committee, and they did so on 3 July 2007. Those same officials were called upon throughout the course of the inquiry, and they always gave willingly of their time. All the documentation from the NIO, including the discussion paper, can be found at appendix 3 of the report. Those documents form an important part of the Committee’s report.
Some 29 organisations made substantive written submissions to the Committee. I urge Members, if they have not already done so, to take time to read those thoughtful and interesting papers. The Committee also took oral evidence from a number of witnesses. There were groundbreaking appearances by the Lord Chief Justice, Sir Brian Kerr; the Chief Constable, Sir Hugh Orde; and the Director of Public Prosecutions, Sir Alasdair Fraser. There were also welcome, and willing, appearances from the Secretary of State, Shaun Woodward; the Chairman of the Policing Board, Sir Desmond Rea; the Head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, Sir Nigel Hamilton; and the Director of the Northern Ireland Court Service, David Lavery.
Although the four main parties are represented on the Committee, members were quick to acknowledge that other parties in the Assembly should have an opportunity to contribute to the inquiry. The Alliance Party and the Progressive Unionist Party took that opportunity and provided oral evidence to the Committee last autumn.
Professor John Jackson from Queen’s University Belfast and P J Fitzpatrick, the Chief Executive of the Courts Service in the Republic of Ireland, also took time to appear before the Committee.
The report deals with the range of policing and justice powers that would cease to be reserved matters in circumstances where there was a request by the Assembly for devolution.
It addresses issues associated with the model and procedures to fill the ministerial post or posts in a new Department. The report makes specific recommendations on the range of policing and justice powers that would cease to be reserved matters, as well as on further preparations that must be made to facilitate devolution.
The report discusses issues about the structure, relationships, governance and accountability of a new Department with policing and justice powers. It also acknowledges the concerns about the funding for, and timing of, devolution.
The report contains 41 recommendations. Issues 1 and 2 relate to reserved matters, which are dealt with in pages 9 to 15 and are covered by recommendations 1 to 16.
The Committee’s first task was to satisfy itself that the reserved matters were wholly, and properly, represented in the Northern Ireland Office discussion paper that was published in February 2006. After that, the Committee turned to the slightly more complex question of which matters might be transferred. From the report, Members will see that there was a substantial level of consensus on the matters that would be included in any request for the transfer of policing and justice powers, if the Assembly made such a request. However, there were issues on which the Committee was unable to reach a consensus.
The Committee recommends that, either before or after the devolution of the range of policing and justice matters that are outlined in the report, the Assembly conducts a review of those matters that relate to the Public Processions (Northern Ireland) Act 1998 and examines the outcome of the strategic review of parading before considering if, and when, the powers should be transferred.
The Committee also recommends that, either before or after the devolution of the range of policing and justice matters that are outlined in the report, those matters that relate to 50:50 temporary recruitment provisions are reviewed to determine if, and when, they should be transferred.
During the Committee’s deliberations, diverse opinions were expressed about the transfer of excepted matters. Sinn Féin and the SDLP argued that all excepted matters should be transferred. However, there was no consensus on whether an amendment should be sought to the Northern Ireland Act 1998 to allow the Assembly to request the transfer of excepted matters.
Members may find it helpful to refer to annex A of the report on pages 28 to 32, which is a summary of those matters that will — and will not — be devolved. That will only be relevant if the Assembly decides to make a request for the transfer of policing and justice matters.
Issue 3 is addressed in pages 17 to 25 of the report and specifically relates to the structure, relationships, governance and accountability of a new Department with policing and justice powers. The Committee makes 20 separate recommendations on those matters. I know that some Committee members intend to speak in the debate, and I expect them to elaborate on that section of the report in particular. They are well placed to do that, and I suspect that many of their contributions will recognise one of the most significant challenges that the Committee faced — striking a balance between independence and accountability that would enable the organisations responsible for the administration of policing and justice to operate effectively.
The Committee heard well-argued testimonies from the Lord Chief Justice, the director of the Public Prosecution Service, the director of the Northern Ireland Court Service and from expert witnesses P J Fitzpatrick — the chief executive of the Courts Service of Ireland — and Professor John Jackson from Queen’s University Belfast.
The Committee agreed that, although it would not be possible to implement change before devolution, issues relating to independence and accountability should be examined further, as a matter of priority, after devolution. That is stated in recommendation 35.
I will now draw the attention of Members to the other main points in the report.
First, the Committee recommends that there should be a single Department that would exercise powers in relation to policing and justice matters. The Committee also considered a range of ministerial options, for which the NIO has already made legislative provision, but was unable to achieve consensus on any of them. The Committee noted that it would also be open to the Assembly to develop other options for ministerial posts and appointment procedures, which, if approved by the Assembly, would require a change in legislation.
During their contributions to this debate, parties may rehearse their preferences for particular ministerial models. The Committee makes two particularly important recommendations about the way in which political parties should commit to further discussions. First, parties should consider the ministerial model that is to be adopted and the method by which the Assembly would make the ministerial appointment or appointments. Secondly, they should consider how any new Department that would exercise responsibility for policing and justice powers might be accommodated in the Executive. The Committee makes it clear that it will be necessary for those discussions to take place before policing and justice matters are devolved.
The report also contains a number of recommendations about the appointment and role of an Attorney General for Northern Ireland. The Committee acknowledge that the creation of that post is a matter for the First Minister and deputy First Minister and raised the matter with OFMDFM. The Committee was advised that no preparatory work had been done for the purposes of appointing an Attorney General. Indeed, it was told that the matter was one for political resolution. In light of that information, the Committee recommends that preparations for the appointment of an Attorney General for Northern Ireland should be taken forward by the First Minister and deputy First Minister before the devolution of policing and justice.
The Committee also identifies a number of governance issues associated with the post of Attorney General and welcomes the advice from the NIO, in its letter of 14 February 2008, that the Attorney General would be answerable to the Assembly on matters of prosecution policy.
The Committee largely endorses the proposals from the NIO about the transfer of the range of existing policing and justice organisations on a without-prejudice basis. However, the Committee makes specific recommendations about the need to review or examine particular issues relating to the governance and accountability of organisations such as the Probation Board, the Court Service and the Public Prosecution Service, including which Department the Public Prosecution Service might be attached to. Recommendations 28, 29 and 30 relate specifically to appointments to the Policing Board and the Office of the Police Ombudsman.
The Committee also discussed the arrangements that would be required to ensure that current North/South agreements should remain in place at the point of devolution. The Committee agreed that the NIO, in consultation with OFMDFM, should take steps to ensure that relevant protocols are in place at the point of devolution. The Committee also agreed that, following devolution, a review of policing and justice agreements should be carried out by the new Department in consultation with its Statutory Committee. Both matters are addressed by recommendation 38.
Before turning to issue 4 in the report, it would be remiss of me not to refer to the considerable amount of time that the Committee spent discussing the role of the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) and the security services. Those organisations are involved in issues of national security, which are excepted matters. Recommendation 39 refers to them.
Issue 4 relates specifically to the preparations that have been made, and still need to be made, to facilitate the devolution of policing and justice matters. The evidence provided by the NIO, the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister and the range of organisations involved in policing and justice matters made it clear to the Committee that all the necessary administrative arrangements had been made, or could be made, in time to respond to any request for devolution of policing and justice.
On various occasions, the Committee discussed funding for policing and justice. The Committee is concerned that, following devolution of those powers, any potential pressures on the policing and justice budget might ultimately have to be borne by the Northern Ireland block.
Mr Speaker: I ask the Member to draw his remarks to a close.
Mr Spratt: Issue 5 of the report deals with the lack of consensus in the Committee about the timing of the devolution of policing and justice matters. The report’s final recommendation states that the political parties should commit to further talks on the devolution of policing and justice.
I commend the report and the motion to the Assembly, and I look forward to a constructive and focused debate.
Mr Speaker: Before I call Mr Alex Maskey to speak, I remind the House that as this is a three-hour debate, Members have up to seven minutes to speak.
Mr A Maskey: Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. Just over a year ago, my Sinn Féin colleagues and I made the historic decision to engage with policing structures in the North. We did so to ensure that the PSNI would become the type of accountable, civic policing service that is required by the Good Friday Agreement. Part of the basis for that decision was the clear commitments that were set out by the two Governments and signed off by all parties at, or following, the St Andrews Agreement and the talks that went on at that time. The key element of those discussions is the transfer of policing and justice powers.
Since that decision was made, Sinn Féin members have taken their places on the Policing Board and have worked well with the other members and parties on those boards, including members of the DUP. Many of my council colleagues have taken leadership roles on local district policing partnerships (DPPs). Other republicans have come forward to serve as independent members on DPPs, and ordinary citizens in republican communities have, for the first time, attended public sessions of DPP meetings. Together we are challenging bad policing — when we see it — and working to put it right.
We are working with the PSNI to develop an effective, civic policing service that will tackle crime and make our communities safer, and we are making a positive difference. I recognise that that is a big challenge for society, including republicans, and it is also a huge challenge for the PSNI.
The next necessary component in the overall policing plan must be the transfer of responsibility for policing and justice into the hands of locally elected politicians. That is not merely an abstract notion; democratic accountability must be the cornerstone of acceptable institutions, especially the political institutions and the policing and criminal justice system, including the judiciary. It is about delivery for those communities and individuals who engage daily with the policing or criminal justice system.
I am sure that every MLA has had such people in their offices giving positive and negative feedback on their experiences. Whatever the constituent’s experience, each Member is powerless to effect any further significant change in this area of important work. Surely no MLA wants that situation to continue. MLAs should want the maximum transfer of powers, and only then will we be able to have a positive impact on people’s lives.
The transfer of policing and justice powers is a sensible demand. Every community, group and individual who has an interest in delivering an accountable and effective policing service in the North supports the transfer of those powers. Any unionist opposition to the transfer of policing and justice powers is not based on a desire for better policing; it is based merely on narrow political and internal interests. It seems that the demands of the people — nationalists, unionists and others — who want the transfer of powers are secondary to whatever machinations are going on in political unionism. That is unacceptable and must not be allowed to happen. It is time for unionism to deliver on the St Andrews Agreement, and, crucially, it is time for both Governments to hold firm to their commitments.
Sinn Féin supports both the report and the motion. It is critical that the DUP accepts the challenge that is laid down in the report. It is in the hands of the DUP — more so than any other party — to sit down with the other parties to agree the precise details of the transfer of powers, which should happen by May. For a long time, we have listened to the DUP telling its community and the rest of us that it is the new party of unionism and that it can offer confident leadership. It is time for the DUP to demonstrate that leadership and positive responsibility, which, over the past number of days, has been sadly lacking.
I support the motion and the report in so far as it puts responsibility on the shoulders of the parties — and firmly on the shoulders of the DUP to show the positive leadership that it has been promising for so long — to ensure that the people here can influence policing and justice matters through their locally elected representatives. Go raibh maith agat.
Mr McFarland: I start by paying tribute to the outgoing Chairperson, members, and staff of the Assembly Executive Review Committee, and to those who gave evidence. It has been a long haul. Moreover, I pay tribute to those Members who have managed to read the report.
The issue is a child of the St Andrews Agreement and the result of some sort of deal — although everyone now denies it — between the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Féin that policing and justice will be devolved. The report specified a date in May.
We must remember that a lot of effort went into this. Colleagues sat on the Preparation for Government Committee all through the summer of 2006, and that effort continued in the autumn in the Programme for Government Committee. Therefore, the report has taken a long time to arrive, and we have had plenty of opportunity to talk about it. As can be seen from the weight of evidence, a lot of talking has been done.
The problem divides into three. The first group of issues is political: they remain unresolved and are parked for the political parties to discuss. Secondly, there are reserved matters, which were with Westminster and are now being transferred. In general, they are uncontentious, and the Committee has agreed to the transfer, without a problem, of the vast bulk of those. Thirdly, there are excepted matters; essentially, those relate to national security. They are to remain the responsibility of Westminster, because they involve the United Kingdom. There was a hoo-ha between the SDLP and Sinn Féin, who wanted all of those transferred. Members can imagine the confusion over anti-terrorist legislation on the Floor of the House — it does not bear thinking about. Luckily, those issues are still parked over there.
It is worth reminding ourselves of the benefits of such legislation. Are we against having police and justice powers devolved? Probably not. I have strong views that there should be legislation to stop people attacking the elderly. If someone enters the home of an elderly person and beats him or her up, that person’s feet should not touch the ground before going to jail via the courts. There is a need for proper penalties for people who attack the elderly. I am concerned about young people who go out socially carrying six-inch bowie knives. Knife legislation must be improved. Antisocial behaviour is frequently referred to in the House, and stronger measures are needed in respect of that. I would like to see that anyone who squares up to a police officer, a firefighter or a member of healthcare staff is dealt with promptly by the police and rigorously by the courts.
Currently, we do not have control of those matters; however, it would make sense if we did, because they are better dealt with in this House.
We should not forget that my party’s forefathers brought down regional Government because Westminster refused to give us back policing and justice. It is ironic that we now have difficulties in agreeing its transfer.
Why are there difficulties? Timing is the first factor: it is a political issue. When will the time be right for devolution and what issues are involved? Let us consider them. The main difficulty is the stance of Sinn Féin. That party sits with the Democratic Unionist Party on the Policing Board. It is already involved in policing, and that arrangement seems not to be going too badly.
Notwithstanding, is it right that, at this stage, former senior members of the Provisional IRA should be in charge of policing? Is the country ready for that — particularly when the army council still exists and there is substantial doubt over its intentions? A police report on the murder of Mr Quinn and the shenanigans in South Armagh, to be published shortly, may not reflect well on the Provisional movement. There are issues there that are not clear and the result is that —
Mr Speaker: Members should check that their mobile phones are switched off.
Mr McFarland: — sufficient confidence does not yet exist for that to happen.
The Chief Constable and the Secretary of State appeared in front of the Committee; both ventured that the autumn was the right time for devolution of policing and justice.
Is there some secret deal between the hierarchies of Sinn Féin and the DUP, à la St Andrews? Before the St Andrews Agreement, the DUP maintained that Sinn Féin was not fit for Government, and that it would be a lifetime, or five lifetimes, before they would be fit.
However, in the end, they missed the date, but produced a timetable. The question for those parties now — and I know that they have not told their grass roots — is whether we are going to miss the current target date, but have a plan in place.
Members must consider several political issues that arose in the Committee. The Ulster Unionist Party considers that if there is confidence in the devolution of policing and justice powers, there should be one Minister, as is the case with all other Departments. Members would be confident that that Minister would do his or her duty. However, the nationalist parties, Sinn Féin and the SDLP, are pushing for two Ministers. Such an arrangement would create issues about the doubling up on staff and the £70,000 per annum ministerial salary.
Another issue involves the number of Northern Ireland Departments. There are two scenarios: first; one Department could be abolished — therefore an existing Minister would cease to hold that position — and a policing and justice ministerial post could be created; secondly, and perhaps more likely, Westminster could legislate by Order in Council to create an extra Department. Alternatively, as was suggested strongly in the Committee, another cosy little deal could be done. Why, early in the life of this Assembly, did the two junior Ministers suddenly apply for and get, such was their workload, loads of extra staff? Could it be that the plan is to devolve policing and justice powers to OFMDFM?
Careful consideration must be given to accountability in relation to the Assembly’s interaction with the Court Service and the Policing Board.
Mr Simpson: Will the Member give way?
Mr McFarland: My colleague will deal with the Member later.
There is an issue about the finances of dealing with the past, and, in order that we are not short-changed in the budget transfer, that matter must be properly thought through.
Mr A Maginness: Given that lunchtime is approaching; where is the beef in the report? Although it is wordy — 41 recommendations contained in two fairly substantial documents — where is the beef in it? There is no doubt that good work has been done on the mechanics of transfers, and those matters have been well rehearsed and addressed; however, essentially, there is no political agreement about one of the most fundamental issues facing the Assembly — that we should have power over policing and justice matters.
The hallmark of real Government is to have control of law and order. I listened carefully to Mr McFarland said about his political predecessors, and I have read Brian Faulkner’s autobiography, in which he refers to the fact that when the Heath Government indicated that they were about to remove policing and justice powers from the Northern Ireland Government he felt that that diminished the sense of Government and that no Government could be credible if they did not control law and order. He was right. That is not to say that the Heath Government were not right to remove those powers; however, a consequence of that was that the Northern Ireland Government resigned and devolution here ended for many years.
Such powers are at the heart of Government, and the SDLP believes that if we can share power on social and economic matters, administer a Budget of £15 billion per annum and deal with — and share — such extensive responsibilities among four parties, then, surely, we could do the same with policing and justice powers.
Mr Weir: Does the Member not agree that policing and justice have been treated separately throughout any attempts at devolution over the past 35 years? They were not included in the 1973-74 Sunningdale settlement. Indeed, of all the various functions that were devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly in 1998, policing and justice were excluded. It has been recognised down the years that policing and justice are separate from issues such as health, education and regional development.
Mr A Maginness: I understand the point that Mr Weir makes. We are not saying that policing and justice is not an issue that has to be dealt with sensitively and in a manner that is consistent with the different political aspirations and feelings of people in the House. We are saying that the big risks of power sharing and the acceptance of partnership Government have been taken. In comparison with those, the risk in devolving policing and justice is small beer.
The report says:
“the devolution of policing justice powers has proved to be deeply emotive, and highly sensitive”.
I say to Mr Weir and to other Members that it is time that we left emotions behind. It is time for us to grow up and become mature politicians who deal not with emotional matters, but with the realities of power. The fundamental reality of power is the control of law and order. I know that Mr Weir is not impressed by that argument, but he should reflect long and hard on that. I would have expected him, as a lawyer, to be more accepting of the importance of law and order being part and parcel of the political set-up.
My basic premise is that if we accept power sharing, we must accept it in relation to policing and justice. Furthermore, in essence, if not in law, policing has been partially devolved to the Northern Ireland Policing Board. That has been one of the most sensitive issues throughout all the political discussions that have taken place. If we have that partial devolution, why not go the whole hog and have all those matters devolved?
The SDLP supports the idea of a single justice Department, and it would prefer that there were one Minister. The party would consider other models, but warns against the Balkanisation of such a Department, whereby one Minister looks after justice and another looks after policing. That would be divisive in the Assembly and should be avoided at all costs.
I hope that the House can agree some time soon to the complete transfer of these matters to one single Department and Minister for justice and policing. Those issues arise every day of the week. Thank you, Mr Speaker.
Mr Speaker: I remind Members that even though I allowed seven minutes for contributions to the debate, we still have some extra time available. Perhaps I should have said that at the start of the debate.
Mr A Maginness: Thank you, Mr Speaker; I must be doing something right.
Law and order and criminal justice matters appear in the papers every day and are raised at nearly every sitting of this House.
What are we — are we the legislators or administrators of those issues? No, we are not — we are merely spectators. We must stop being spectators and become players on the field.
Dr Farry: I, too, congratulate those who were involved in the preparation of the weighty reports. That said; I am disappointed by their content. I am unsure about whether there has been much progress on policing and justice since the discussions in the Preparation for Government Committee in 2006. At that time, there were three key issues: the powers to be devolved; the ministerial structures; and the timing of devolution. The easiest issue related to the powers to be devolved, as consensus could most readily be found on that matter. Indeed, that issue is the most detailed aspect of the reports.
The remaining issues — ministerial structures and the timing of devolution — are still up in the air. Although the reports refer to those matters as being the subject of further discussions among parties, there is no indication about the forum or format in which those discussions will take place. I, for one, and the wider community, would like those discussions to take place in a transparent way so that people could have a clear understanding of what was happening and to avoid a deal being made behind the scenes.
I put on the record that the Alliance Party does not feel much sense of ownership of the reports. The Assembly and Executive Review Committee is the only Committee comprised entirely of Members from the four Executive parties. I remind the House that it is an Assembly and Executive Review Committee, not an Executive review Committee. There are wider reforms and matters pertaining to how the House conducts itself, and the Committee could benefit from having a different perspective on it.
I am comfortable with the Committee’s recommendations regarding the areas to be devolved; they reflect largely the papers that were provided by the NIO in the past and more recently. Although we are ambitious for powers to be transferred to the Northern Ireland Assembly, there is a wider UK dimension to policing, particularly in relation to national security issues. Therefore, it is reasonable to expect that some matters will continue to be excepted matters and will remain the responsibility of Westminster.
The Alliance Party believes that there should be a single Department, but notes the absence of any clear consensus on ministerial structures. Our preference is for one Minister operating in the Executive through collective responsibility, in a coherent manner. Of all the models for which the British Government have legislated thus far, only one party in the House is deemed to be unsuitable for exercising responsibilities on policing — the Alliance Party.
We could have the perverse situation whereby the Alliance Party, if and when it has sufficient numbers to qualify for a place on the Executive — and our day will come, mark my words — we would be entitled to —
Mr Weir: Will the Member give way?
Dr Farry: Sorry, no. I have a lot to get through.
Under the d’Hondt process, the Alliance Party would be entitled to take up a ministerial post in any of the existing Departments. However, the British Government have determined that Ministers will come from the two largest designations in the House. Therefore, for the Alliance Party to qualify to exercise policing and justice responsibilities, we would need to be part of one of the two larger designations. That is a farcical situation and points to the fallacy that is the designation system. Again, it is a blatant form of institutionalised discrimination.
The Alliance Party wants policing and justice powers to be passed to the Assembly.
The Assembly should aspire to exercise those powers; indeed, the same goes for some sort of tax-varying powers. This institution is not a glorified county council; it is a devolved Assembly that is working for the region that is Northern Ireland.
For the Alliance Party, the question is not whether, but when, those powers will be devolved. The answer seems to be that they will be devolved soon, but not quite yet. The Northern Ireland Office must be careful not to push too hard or too fast for their devolution, given that there is insufficient community confidence about the matter.
The issue for the Alliance Party is not the bona fides of any party that might exercise policing and justice responsibilities. We have travelled a long way in a short time, although I recognise that some issues still need to be resolved. The key issue for us is the way in which the Executive work together. There are fears that justice powers might be exercised by one party, operating in a ministerial silo and in a biased manner. It is important that justice is embedded in an Executive that operates collectively and coherently and in which Ministers from all parties adopt a genuine problem-solving approach. We have not seen that in this Assembly up until now.
I wish to draw particular attention to the manner in which the victims’ commissioners were handled. That represented a clear challenge for the Executive to show leadership by making a single appointment, as they were required to do. They ducked the issue and tried to split the difference. In life, one has to make tough decisions, but one cannot always split the difference. If the public could see an Executive that are willing to make tough decisions and reach compromises, they would be much more assured of the Executive’s ability to exercise authority over policing and justice. Having said that, the Assembly should champion the devolution of policing and justice powers and do what it can to build confidence over the coming months. I therefore hope that that devolution will happen very soon.
Resources pose a key challenge that must be addressed, because major pressures are involved with policing and justice. If the costs for that are transferred to the Northern Ireland block grant, there will be significant financial pressures. That is an issue of particular concern.
Mr Speaker: The Member’s time is up.
Mr McCausland: The report’s length demonstrates the complexity of the issues with which it deals. Much of the Committee’s debate was about the structure — or architecture — of policing and justice. There was significant agreement on those technical matters, which is reflected in the report and which was explained by the incoming Chairperson of the Committee, Mr Spratt.
The devolution of policing and justice powers is a complex and sensitive issue. That is why most unionists will not be impressed by Alan McFarland’s rather pathetic efforts this morning to make spurious accusations and allegations against other unionists. Being savaged by Alan McFarland is a bit like being savaged by a dead sheep.
Most unionists will not be impressed either by that or by David McNarry’s inane ramblings.
Devolution is a sensitive issue that deserves to be treated with respect and not in the way in which —
Mr B McCrea: Yes, it is.
Mr McCausland: I am sorry; it is Basil McCrea rambling — the two Members sound much the same.
As I said, there was some agreement on technical matters. However, there are many matters on which much more work must be done.
It has just occurred to me that an attempt is being made to change the Ulster Unionist Party’s leadership, because Basil McCrea seems to speak on everything these days.
The Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister has acknowledged that no preparatory work has been done on the office of the Attorney General. There were some matters on which several options had been identified but on which there was simply no agreement. The Committee could not even agree on the name of any future Department. We did not agree on the ministerial model, and there was significant concern about financial implications.
I wish to concentrate on the core issue for most unionists, which is sometimes described as community confidence. The onus for that is on Sinn Féin — not on unionists — because that party is holding up the devolution of policing and justice powers. Sinn Féin is the obstacle to this step.
On a radio programme this morning, Martina Anderson was interviewed by Seamus McKee. On several occasions, she was pressed as to whether the IRA army council should be disbanded, and she refused to answer the question. It was put to her several times, but on each occasion, she refused to answer it. Her silence speaks volumes, because the abolition — the disbandment — of the IRA army council would be a significant step; only one step, but a significant step.
Last week, Jennifer McCann organised — in this very Building — a celebration of an IRA terrorist, a person who placed a bomb in a hotel and attempted to murder members of the RUC and members of the general public. The deputy First Minister stated recently that he had wanted to murder every member of the British Army. Such incidents concern members of the unionist community. Perhaps those incidents serve to steady the nerves of republicans, but they also put back the possible date of the devolution of policing and justice.
The murder of Mr Quinn was mentioned earlier today. There is also the matter of the murder of Mr McCartney, and the fact that the police are still investigating the Northern Bank robbery.
Mrs I Robinson: Does the Member agree that the poll conducted recently by the Northern Ireland Office, indicating that more than 60% of DUP voters support the transfer of policing and justice, is an absolute nonsense and an example of the NIO at its dirty work?
Mr McCausland: I welcome the Member’s intervention. I can see that Basil McCrea is laughing, and I know that he finds everything very funny these days, but there are many people in the unionist community who see this as a very serious matter and not deserving of the sort of nonsense emanating from those benches.
Alex Maskey spoke about the attitude of Sinn Féin to policing, and the shift that his party made a year ago. He spoke of unionists delivering. We need to see Sinn Féin delivering. The words and the actions of Martina Anderson, Jennifer McCann, Martin McGuinness, and others show clearly that Sinn Féin still has a long way to go.
Devolution of policing and justice will not happen in May, nor will it happen in October. The Chief Constable told the Committee that he considered October to be the possible date for devolution. He said that that estimate was based on a conversation with various people; however, he could not tell us on what those people had based their presumption that October would be a suitable date, nor what was going to change between May and October. Devolution will not happen in May or October; it cannot — and will not — happen unless and until the DUP agrees to it. That may be called DUP consent, or a DUP veto, but that is the reality, and I thank God for it.
Mr Adams: Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. I thank the Committee for its report.
I want to focus on what I believe are the reasons for the DUP’s refusal to fulfil its obligations. People at this side of the Chamber will not be lectured by people in unionism. Let us remind ourselves that policing and justice powers were taken away because of the abuse of those powers by unionism. Sin é. Níl aon rud eile ann ach an rud sin.
I listen to Members talking quite sensibly about the need for us to have the ability to introduce legislation to deal with, for example, knife culture, the victims of crime and bail conditions for offenders. Those Members then say that they do not want those powers.
I wonder where ordinary unionists who were listening to Nigel Dodds this morning feel that new competent unionism is at this point.
The DUP says that it won the St Andrews Agreement. The St Andrews Agreement is explicit on the issue: powers of policing and justice should be transferred by a given date in May. Martin McGuinness, in his discussions with the DUP and before the DUP leader, Ian Paisley, and I made the agreement that brought these institutions into being, agreed that the Democratic Unionist Party would be bound by the St Andrews Agreement.
The core of the issue is political. It has nothing to do with Sinn Féin; it is to do with the battle in unionism and, most recently, the Dromore by-election. One of the problems that I find, as an observer and student of unionism and as someone who wants to learn about unionism, is that Jim Allister is as likely to be dictating what the DUP does as anyone on the Benches opposite. Where does new, confident unionism stand now?
Offensive words were used. Whatever one thinks of Mairead Farrell — and I happen to think that she was an iconic Irishwoman — it does not help in any way to build confidence for anyone to say, as was said yesterday, that she got what was coming to her. It is not a shared hand when people on the Benches opposite talk about community confidence. The old days are finished. The community is all the people who live here. We must remember that all those who died had friends and family. We have all a big job of work to do to build confidence right across all the divisions.
It is obvious that policing and justice powers will be transferred. It is only a question of when. We will have to put up with the bluster, offstage noises and everything else until the DUP eventually gets round to doing what it agreed to do. The quicker it does that, the better for everyone. There is no logic to the DUP’s position. Someone should run back the transcripts of the remarks made by any of the unionist spokespersons on the issue. There is no rationale or logic whatsoever in saying that they do not want to share power with unrepentant republicans or with former republican prisoners. That is nonsense. They are sharing power with unrepentant republicans and with former republican prisoners now, both here in these institutions, the Executive and — for what it is worth — on the Policing Board and in the district policing partnerships as well. A lot of power has already been transferred and devolved.
The DUP may succeed in extending that time — who knows? It plays up the phrase “a DUP veto”. Let me remind the DUP that that is a double-edged veto. We read in the papers that the DUP wants to do other things in the process, and I note the totally offensive remarks that it made about Cumann Lúthchleas Gael — the GAA. If the DUP wants to have a soccer stadium —not a football stadium — at the Danny Blanchflower site, it will not get it without Sinn Féin’s consent or veto.
Let us work the matter out sensibly, and not across the Chamber in belligerent, offensive tones. Let us sit down and talk the issues through and serve the people. All the people deserve to have decent, proper policing that is accountable and ensures that local Ministers can come forward and express the concerns of all the constituencies of this part of the island of Ireland. Sin é, a Cheann Comhairle. Go raibh míle maith agat.
Mr I McCrea: I put on record my appreciation to the Committee Clerk, the staff of the Assembly and Executive Review Committee and its former Chairman. I welcome the newly appointed Chairman, my friend and colleague Jimmy Spratt.
Although Committee members are in the Chamber to present the report on which powers could, or could not, be devolved, the timing of that devolution was outside the Committee’s remit. I will not listen to lectures or threats from Gerry Adams or any Sinn Féin MLA. They complained that the unionist community has entered a power-sharing Executive and has made statements that are not very nice. I will not be threatened by Gerry Adams about a Sinn Féin veto on a football stadium or any other subject.
Ms Ní Chuilín: Sinn Féin will not be threatened by a unionist veto either.
(Mr Deputy Speaker [Mr Molloy] in the Chair)
Mr I McCrea: That is about to happen.
There has been much Government and party debate about when the final piece of the devolution jigsaw will be put in place. Even the NIO has been busy preparing draft legislation for its chosen date of May 2008. However, I state categorically that the DUP has never signed up to a deadline for the devolution of policing and justice. The DUP will not endorse the deadline set by the British and Irish Governments.
I noticed that the NIO recently took time out from preparing the draft legislation to carry out an opinion poll. Lo and behold, the poll found that, when asked, 60% of DUP voters supported the devolution of policing and justice powers. I was not at all surprised by the result, but I assure the NIO and the Secretary of State that the DUP will not be swayed by any opinion polls, demands or threats.
The DUP is some time away from even considering the devolution of policing and justice, and many outstanding issues remain to be addressed. A triple-lock veto on the devolution of policing and justice is enshrined in legislation because of the negotiating skills of the DUP. The party will continue to exercise that veto until it is happy that sufficient community confidence exists and that the so-called army council has been stood down.
A Member: Will the Member give way?
Mr I McCrea: No, I will not. The army council must be permanently stood down.
The DUP must see a major change in Sinn Féin’s attitude. In recent weeks, as my colleague Nelson McCausland mentioned, Martin McGuinness stated that he would have killed “every single British soldier” in the aftermath of Bloody Sunday. Sinn Féin paid a recent tribute to an IRA bomber Mairéad Farrell, and on radio this morning, the Member for Foyle Martina Anderson described herself as an unrepentant republican. As Nelson said, she refused to answer a question on the future of the army council. Such comments alone prove that Sinn Féin has much work to do to create public confidence. It is more likely that Sinn Féin is reaching out to its ever-reducing republican support than trying to deal with the issues at hand.
The DUP has been blamed for stalling the devolution of policing and justice. However, that blame rests with Sinn Féin and the continued existence of the army council. The DUP has never stated that it does not support the devolution of policing and justice powers. However, as long as attacks on Orange Halls continue and Sinn Féin wages a cultural war on British symbols, I assure the Assembly that there will be little support for the devolution of policing and justice powers from the community that the DUP represents.
Mr B McCrea: It is interesting that Nelson McCausland said that this is not a funny subject — perhaps his statement marks the end of the “Chuckle Brothers”.
I remind Nelson McCausland and other Members present that they were the ones who got into bed with Sinn Féin on the issue. They did the deal at St Andrews. It is now for the rest of the Assembly to try to pick up the pieces — [Laughter.]
I hear laughter, Mr Deputy Speaker. I was admonished earlier. However, this is not a laughing matter; it is not funny. Why are Members laughing? — [Interruption.]
I am trying my best, Mr Deputy Speaker.
Mr Deputy Speaker: Order, please. Let the Member speak.
Mr B McCrea: Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.
The Assembly must identify whether one of the key attributes, confidence, is present. Does the Assembly have confidence in itself and in other people? Does the community have sufficient confidence for policing and justice to be devolved to the Assembly?
As a member of the Policing Board, I have watched how Sinn Féin has operated in that body. I must say that I have seen that party engage seriously in the Policing Board. It tries to do what it believes is right. Of course, the point is that there are fundamental disagreements, which I have discussed. In fact, there have been some significant discussions on matters such as the operational independence of the Chief Constable, which, in my party’s view, is sacrosanct, but is a matter for debate. There was discussion on the use of Taser, for which I believed that a proper case had been put forward. However, other members disagreed.
In order to generate the public confidence that is needed for progress to be made, the Assembly must be able to have reasonable, rational debates and reach proper conclusions on those issues. When it is able to do so, and tackle difficult situations, it can move forward.
I have difficulty with the emphasis that is being put on the past, because the Assembly keeps going over old ground and rubbing salt into wounds. It is, therefore, impossible to build the confidence that is necessary to move forward. Having listened to my colleague Mr McFarland, who set out several reasons why my party wants there to be devolution of policing and justice and why it considers that to be important, I believe that, at present, the problem is that the necessary confidence does not exist.
The funniest suggestion that I have heard so far is one that has been around for quite some time — that the two Ministers for policing and justice would be Ian Paisley Jnr and Gerry Kelly. That would be a different “Chuckle” team. I do not have any particular problem with either individual. However, the community has issues with them. The community is not ready to take those people on board. There is insufficient trust.
What is actually being discussed? I have already said that the operational independence of the Chief Constable is paramount; that has been agreed. The Court Service will be an arm’s-length body. The judiciary is always independent; that is a fundamental tenet of democracy. The Prison Service is also independent. All those organisations are arm’s-length bodies. The Minister for policing and justice would have power only to introduce legislation. That legislation would be subject to cross-community consent.
There is a world of opportunity for the Assembly to tackle matters such as knife crime and fixed-penalty notices. On a recent visit to Edinburgh, Members learnt about the effect that fixed-penalty notices have on antisocial behaviour and criminal damage. It is regrettable that no DUP members were able to take part in that visit because they would have learned a thing or two. Nevertheless, Members who did go found it valuable.
The Assembly will face challenges if and when there is devolution of policing and justice. There is an £88 million shortfall in the policing budget during the CSR period. We are so used to dealing with millions and billions that people do not necessarily understand what that means. However, when it comes back to the Policing Board — [Interruption.] — I am glad to have finally engaged the attention of the DUP — [Interruption.]
Mr Deputy Speaker: Order. The Member has the Floor.
Mr B McCrea: There has already been a 33% reduction in police overtime, and there is to be a further 50% reduction; therefore, there will be no overtime. That is despite the fact that overtime is routinely required to provide a decent police service. There will be no community police officers, the required call centre will be kiboshed, and the full-time Reserve will be phased out over a three-year period.
Furthermore, the most important money issue at the moment is that the Chief Constable and his senior team have said that in future, consideration will need to be given to reducing the number of recruits, which will result in the number of regular police officers decreasing to below 7,500. Is that what we want?
Finally, there is also an issue about pension provision. It is wrong that we should be burdened with the pension provisions that are required as a result of the legacy of a terrorist campaign. There are 13,000 officers who need, and are entitled to, their pensions. That cost should be picked up by the British Exchequer before policing and justice powers are devolved.
Ian McCrea said that it will be some time before there is any movement on this issue. I wonder whether he is referring to a political lifetime. When Gerry Adams mentions St Andrews, I also wonder whether he remembers the Belfast Agreement and the commitment to decommissioning, because that did not happen on time either.
Mr Deputy Speaker: The Member’s time is up; he should resume his seat.
Mrs D Kelly: The SDLP believes that there is no good reason not to devolve policing and justice powers by May. That could have been realised had Sinn Féin not agreed, in the negotiations that led to the St Andrews Agreement, to give the DUP a triple veto — a point that Mr Adams has now publicly acknowledged. However, we are now in the midst of a phoney war, which is not so much about community confidence as about the DUP looking over its collective shoulder at the Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV).
Members have referred to the recent opinion poll. As with all statistics, they pick out what they like. They like some polls, but not others. That poll showed a clear appetite among the public for the devolution of policing and justice powers. As politicians, we need to take the necessary steps to achieve that.
The DUP has claimed that there is insufficient confidence in the community for the devolution of justice powers. Of course, it means the unionist community. However, even that notion has been questioned by the recent poll, which shows not only cross-community support for the devolution of justice and policing powers, but that a reasonable majority of DUP supporters is in favour.
Furthermore, the argument that power over policing might be granted to a Sinn Féin Minister is misleading. All the parties involved in the compilation of the report have recognised that the Policing Board — on which all parties are represented — will continue, along with all the other accountability mechanisms set up under Patten, to be the major player that holds the police to account. As policing powers have in fact, if not in law, already been devolved to the Policing Board — of which I record my membership — it follows logically that justice powers should also be devolved through legislation.
Some Members have referred to the community’s requirement for, and its cries for, legislative powers. Owing to the collective failure, or the failure of some parties in particular to accept their responsibilities under devolution, we have to go, cap in hand, to the NIO to get legislation introduced.
We have heard many calls and read much in the media about the need to end 50% remission. We also had to depend on the NIO for the sexual offences legislation. Furthermore, there is a need for crime and disorder legislation to tackle antisocial behaviour.
The devolution of policing powers would give us the opportunity to tackle high-volume, low-level crime much more effectively. That has been evidenced in Scotland, where statutory powers have been given to community safety partnerships, and where there are opportunities for integrated partnerships that allow local councils and local authorities to fund community officers. Such powers here would go some way to tackling the shortfall that exists in policing, as pointed out by Mr Basil McCrea.
There have also been recent reports on the prison estate, and how much work needs to be done to bring it up to an acceptable standard for the twenty-first century. However, that is another responsibility that will be shunned, despite daily cries from the public, who are demanding the devolution of policing and justice powers. One only has to listen to local radio stations — not a day goes by when a policing and justice issue is not highlighted.
It is a pity that Mr Adams has left the Chamber. The patronising manner in which he addressed the unionist Benches is the same one to which the Southern electorate did not take kindly. He acknowledged the triple veto, and made reference — as did Mr Alex Maskey — to the historic commitment by Sinn Féin to support policing. However, it was the nationalist community that made Sinn Féin support policing, because that community was crying out for proper and effective policing.
Sinn Féin came very late to the stage to support policing, and it is now trying to claim credit for that. I will not allow that to go unchallenged, because I know about the hard work that was done by my party — particularly by my party colleague Mr Attwood. That hard work can be seen in the very commendable SDLP submission to the Committee. That stands in stark contrast to rather pathetic Sinn Féin contributions — both Alex Maskey’s speech today and his party’s written submission to the Committee. One only has to compare the submissions of the two parties to see who is really ahead of the pack in respect of the devolution of policing and justice, and what needs to be done.
It is very clear that the entire community wants those powers to be devolved. Much work needs to be done on resources and allocations. Sinn Féin and the DUP have entered into a phoney war as they prepare for elections over the coming months. That is absolutely pathetic. We see tit-for-tat concessions, with the DUP planning to veto the devolution of policing and justice powers, and Sinn Féin responding by threatening to veto proposals for a new football stadium. That is not responsible, it is not good governance, and it is not holding ourselves to account to the electorate. I hope that the electorate will remember that in the coming months and years.
Some Members: Hear, hear.
Ms Anderson: Go raibh maith agat. Éirím a labhairt i dtacaíocht na tuairisce seo.
As a member of the largest nationalist party, I commend the report to the Assembly. I welcome the work of the all-party —
Mr Weir: Will the Member give way?
Ms Anderson: No. I have only just stood up. Suigh síos.
I welcome the report of the all-party Assembly and Executive Review Committee. The report represents the next stage on the road to transferring policing and justice powers away from London and into the hands of locally elected politicians.
It is worth noting that the report has received all-party backing in the Committee. That points to a reality whereby, as mature politicians, we can quickly commence and conclude discussions on issues of departmental models, and press speedily ahead with bringing proper democratic accountability to policing here for the very first time.
The vast majority of people here support that move. The Irish Government, the US Administration and the British Government all support that move. The British Government have stated that the draft legislation allowing for the transfer of those powers is written and is ready to be introduced. All that remains now is for the DUP to step up to the mark and show the type of political leadership that it displayed when it made the deal to ensure that the political institutions here were put back in place.
Some on the unionist Benches have argued that the transfer of policing and justice powers can happen only when public confidence allows. If that is the benchmark, the transfer should happen in May 2008, because the view expressed in opinion polls is that that public confidence exists now.
Mr Storey: Will the Member give way?
Ms Anderson: Suigh síos.
Let us examine what the public has already entrusted us with. The Assembly is responsible for issues such as health, education and housing. The people have given us responsibility for eradicating child poverty and for building the kind of economy that benefits everyone. In short, they have entrusted us with securing the health and well-being of their children. What greater vote of confidence is there than that?
It is that confidence that Minister Dodds is selling to big American investors when he tells them about the political stability that exists in the North and that the time is right for them to invest here. However, it is inconsistent of him to then tell the people of the North that such stability does not exist and that more needs to be done. Someone cannot be a leader internationally and be led locally without exposing massive inconsistencies in his or her arguments and leadership ability.
It is clear that the majority of people here support the progress that has been made in the past year. They are pleased that locally accountable politicians are making decisions, and they want us to make decisions on policing and justice matters, which is an area that affects their everyday lives.
As a republican ex-prisoner, I sat on the Policing Board with the current DUP junior Minister Jeffrey Donaldson, and I now sit on it alongside the ex-junior Minister, the DUP’s Ian Paisley Jnr. Through that board, we collectively hold the Chief Constable to account. As members of the board, we know that there is no public confidence; however, it is a lack of public confidence in the current system of justice. There are real and genuine concerns about issues such as call-out time, antisocial behaviour, death drivers, sex crime and repeat offenders on bail. Those issues affect all our people, regardless of creed, colour, class or political opinion, and the public wants local politicians to deal with them. Let us tackle those issues together in this Chamber, and let us all demand the transfer of powers to allow us to do just that. Indeed, the transfer of policing and justice powers will give communities — through their MLAs — a voice and an ability to influence the shape of the policing and justice system that is needed to address some of their real concerns.
As a member of the Policing Board, I found out recently that the Chief Constable wanted to inform the public about where he intended to make cuts. He intended to present as a fait accompli his plans for spending millions of pounds of public money without any consultation with, or accountability to, the board and, therefore, to the people.
Mrs D Kelly: Will the Member give way?
Ms Anderson: Suigh síos. No.
There was no vote in the Chamber, no consultation process and no impact assessment. In other words, it was like direct rule all over again. However, during direct rule, did we not all complain about unelected, unaccountable Englishmen spending our money and making decisions that affected the lives of our people? The transfer of policing and justice powers will change that situation. It will mean that those who are in charge of policing policy and the policing purse strings will be answerable to the people whom they serve.
Let us be clear — the transfer of policing and justice powers will happen. There is little point in the DUP or others trying to delay the transfer simply for the sake of breaking through a deadline that was agreed at St Andrews. The issues are too important to the people whom we all represent for that sort of politicking to take place. Let us agree this report today, and, in the coming weeks, press ahead and work out the small number of important issues that remain. In that way, we can deliver those powers into local accountable hands in May, as was agreed in the St Andrews Agreement. Go raibh míle maith agat.
Mr G Robinson: As a member of the Assembly and Executive Review Committee, I commend and thank the highly qualified and credible witnesses who appeared before the Committee. I must not forget to mention the Committee staff, who worked diligently to assist the Committee.
This is one of the most divisive and contentious issues that the Assembly will have to deal with. Feelings will run high, and I will certainly not spare the feelings of anyone who feels that my summary of the current position is incorrect.
Policing and justice powers cannot, should not, and will not be devolved to the Assembly in May 2008. Why? It is because paragraph 7 of the St Andrews Agreement states that public confidence is required for those powers to be devolved, and that confidence does not exist. An agreed way forward is nowhere in sight, and without consensus, it would be premature to transfer policing and justice powers to the Assembly.
We should ask ourselves why there is no public confidence. The main factor is the existence of the IRA army council, despite claims from the IRA and Sinn Féin that the terrorist campaign is over. If that campaign is truly over, why does that body remain in place?
Mr A Maginness: Will the Member give way?
Mr G Robinson: No; it is too near lunchtime. [Laughter.]
Unionists are fearful that that blood-stained body remains in place as a plan B for republicans. Perhaps the Members opposite can give the Assembly a date on which the army council will disappear into the annals of history along with their defeated republican political agenda. That step must be taken before confidence can begin to be built in the unionist community. The Members opposite will say that the army council is nothing to do with them, but that does not wash with me. There are self-confessed ex-IRA prisoners sitting on their Benches, so, at worst, they have great influence on, if not control over, the IRA army council.
There must also be a cessation of attacks on Orange Halls and on unionist culture as a whole — whether it is objection to the presence of a Princess Diana mug in Limavady Borough Council or to the statue of Carson at Stormont.
There are also Members opposite who said that they would not co-operate — and would tell constituents not to co-operate — with the PSNI. The deputy First Minister gloated recently that he would have been happy to shoot British troops on the streets of Londonderry. Once republicans stop making such utterances, perhaps — just perhaps — the unionist population will begin to believe that they are serious about a peaceful future, and confidence may begin to grow.
The DUP never agreed to the May 2008 date for the devolution of policing and justice powers. That is in contrast to the UUP, which is telling a gloriously rewritten history of its own. It was willing to settle for the devolution of policing and justice powers without the concessions that the DUP wrung out of republican representatives.
The DUP wants policing and justice powers to be devolved. However, that can only happen when trust and community confidence is high throughout Northern Ireland and the budgetary requirements to fulfil those obligations are in place. When those powers are eventually devolved to the Assembly in a few lifetimes, there is no point having a system that is not properly financed. We want a world-class system of policing and justice to continue evolving, which cannot happen without sufficient funding. Although I look forward, with confidence, to when the powers are eventually devolved, the time is not right.
Mr Deputy Speaker: The Business Committee has arranged to meet immediately upon the lunchtime suspension. I propose, therefore, by leave of the Assembly, to suspend the sitting until 2.00 pm.
The sitting was suspended at 12.38 pm.
On resuming (Mr Deputy Speaker [Mr McClarty] in the Chair) —
Mr O’Dowd: Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. A cold start is always difficult after a break in a debate. Thus far, the debate has been useful, although the political views that have been outlined by parties and individuals have, at times, been repetitive.
The report by the Assembly and Executive Review Committee represents progress. It has come about after good work in the Committee by all parties, and we must now move ahead to finish the job of taking the important powers of policing and justice into our hands, and begin delivering on the issue for the people who elected us. Progress has been made by the Committee. Alban Maginness made the criticism that there was no meat on the bones, and I assume that he was referring to the lack of a transfer date. The Committee did not agree on a transfer date; however, it sent out a clear signal that all the political parties have a responsibility to sit down and work out the issue. The onus is on Sinn Féin and the DUP to take the lead, and — let me make it clear — Sinn Féin remains committed to the transfer of policing and justice powers by the May deadline.
The issue has been discussed at length; it was the main topic of debate at the talks that led to the St Andrews Agreement Act 2006. We intend to ensure that all the political parties and Governments that had an input into that Act live up to their commitments. The DUP said that, for confidence reasons, it cannot move forward. It stated that there is a lack of confidence in the unionist community, although I suspect that its reasons have much more to do with confidence among its rank and file than with confidence in the wider unionist community.
The DUP is going through a process of change, and that always leads to a certain lack of stability. It intends to elect a new leader in the near future. Achieving leadership is the easy part; the difficult part is deciding what to do as leader. That will be a test for whoever the DUP decides to make its new leader. We all know who the leader will be, but that is a matter for the DUP. The new leader of the DUP must show that not only can he lead his party, but that he can lead his community and the wider community. The issue of policing and justice has great importance to all communities at a grassroots level.
Throughout the debate, the Ulster Unionist Party has shown the benefit at community level of the devolution of policing and justice powers. The Ulster Unionist Party’s contributions have provided an insight into a side of thinking in unionism that has not yet reached its public profile. Although the Ulster Unionist Party outlined the reasons why devolution of policing and justice should take place, it then said that there is no confidence for that in unionism. I am concerned that the Ulster Unionist Party will not take a leadership role on the issue. Despite the comments of its leader, Mr Empey, that it will not be subsumed by the DUP, the Ulster Unionist Party is waiting to see what the DUP will do so that it can follow it. Will the Ulster Unionist Party move when the DUP decides that the necessary confidence exists? Its position does not make sense. If the arguments in favour of the need for the transfer of policing and justice powers to communities are effectual, as I think they are, the Ulster Unionist Party has a responsibility to step forward and provide leadership.
As I listened to some of the DUP contributions, I almost went back in time to just over a year ago. When I sat in the Chamber in January and February 2007, many of the same DUP Members who spoke today said that they would never, ever share power with Sinn Féin. One present DUP Minister told me that I would be an old man before the DUP would share power with Sinn Féin. I know that I have a more few grey hairs than I had this time last year, but I am not an old man. Perhaps those statements were genuine and sincere at that time, but that shows that even the most entrenched positions at a certain period in history can move. Why did the DUP move? I believe that it was because the wider populace insisted that it did.
They insisted that the situation and the conditions — as they often refer to the calendar — were correct for movement into a power-sharing Executive, the establishment of the all-Ireland institutions and the progression of a shared future and identity on the island of Ireland.
If people are prepared to take courageous steps —that relates to what I said about the Ulster Unionist Party — and show leadership on the issue, the community will also allow its voice to be heard. Church leaders, trade unions and civic society must make their opinions heard on the transfer of policing and justice, because it is not merely a political matter; it is about improving the lives of our citizens and helping to ensure that legislation is in place to protect elderly and vulnerable people in society.
Some DUP contributors stated that there will be no transfer of policing and justice as long as attacks on Orange Halls continue. However, a key DUP demand is that legislation be introduced that will speed up compensation procedures for attacks, for instance, on Orange Halls. They are the people who are allowing that matter to rest in the hands of the British Minister who has responsibility for justice. It is wrong that Orange Halls are being attacked, but if those attacks continue to happen, and if the compensation process does not meet the needs of the Loyal Orders, the DUP should be part of the organisation that takes ownership of the issue, runs with it and has the right to introduce legislation to change it. As the circumstances stand, the DUP cannot change the legislation. The British direct rule Ministers who were criticised for the mismanagement of the Health Service, finance and the Departments are continuing to run policing and justice poorly.
I am the Chairperson of the Public Accounts Committee, and I know that tens of millions of pounds are spent on our policing and justice system, and there is no proper scrutiny of that financing. The Policing Board has a scrutiny role, but the Public Accounts Committee will also play a valuable role. Go raibh maith agat.
Mr Deputy Speaker: I call Mr Simon Hamilton, who is a young man.
Mr Hamilton: Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker; flattery will get you everywhere. I will do my best not to be “repetitive” — in the words of the previous Member who spoke — although I fear that I may dip into repetitiousness from time to time.
I repeat the sentiment that the DUP supports devolution, if it is required. The DUP supported devolution long ago; when other parties had dalliances with different ideas, the party supported devolution. We also support the transfer of maximum powers into locally — [Interruption.]
Mr Kennedy: Where did he get that?
Mr Hamilton: The dog has been hit by the stick that has been thrown.
We support the transfer of maximum powers to locally accountable hands in Stormont, and that includes, in principle, policing and justice powers. However, as has been oft repeated today — and as has been said previously and, no doubt, will be said again — those powers will be transferred only when sufficient confidence has been established in the community.
Those inside and outside the Assembly who say that today’s debate and report are the first steps towards the devolution of policing and justice need only read the report to get their response — loud and clear. I congratulate the Committee members who, at times, had to sit through taxing and detailed evidence sessions in order to complete the report. It is technical in nature, but when it comes down to the brass tacks of when and how policing and justice powers will be transferred, the report does not provide a clear path as to their imminent devolution. There is no agreement on when policing and justice powers will be transferred.
I congratulate Jimmy Spratt on his appointment as the Chairperson of the Assembly and Executive Review Committee. It is an important Committee that will carry out significant work on the transfer of policing and justice powers and other issues in the Assembly. In the concluding part of Mr Spratt’s opening speech, he touched on recommendation 41 of the report, which states that there is no agreement on the timing of the devolution of policing and justice matters. The DUP has said consistently that there is no prospect of policing and justice powers being devolved until the required community confidence has been achieved. Today, that sentiment has been repeated on the DUP Benches and by others on this side of the Chamber, and it has also been mentioned by the Alliance Party.
It is understandable that policing and justice powers are a sensitive issue. As a result of over three decades of republican violence, directed against the police and, at times, against the courts and justice system, many in our community are rightly perturbed at the thought of Sinn Féin having a role in policing and justice.
That, in part, is why my party ensured the negotiation of what has been called “the triple lock”, described in the SDLP’s written submission in evidence to the Committee as “a DUP Veto.” We thank the SDLP for that comment; it is absolutely accurate. The triple lock comprises a recommendation by the First Minister, Assembly approval and Westminster agreement.
My friend the Chairman of the Enterprise, Trade and Investment Committee and SDLP leader, Mr Durkan, said of the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2006:
“That was the act that provided for the so-called triple lock being given to the DUP. It allowed ultimate control to rest on a DUP veto, and unfortunately the British government conceded that veto to them.”
I am sure that I have been faithful in reporting his remarks. It is in my interests to do so, and in his as well.
The St Andrews Agreement, which has been talked about today, includes the aspirational, arbitrary May deadline. That was set by the Government; it was not agreed with my party. We are under no obligation to meet it and we will not meet it, because community confidence is not there.
It would be churlish not to recognise that major steps forward have been taken by republicans in policing and justice matters. Sinn Féin now supports the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the administration of British justice in Ireland. Sinn Féin Ministers in the Assembly have pledged their support to policing and the courts. As the Chief Constable has said, there is unprecedented republican support for the police and their investigations in republican strongholds across Northern Ireland.
Only last week, I noticed that The Police are coming to perform a concert at Stormont at the end of June. I am much too young to remember them the first time round. Much to my surprise, I saw the deputy First Minister issue a statement welcoming The Police to Stormont. That is not something that always happened in the past, and it is a sign of how the DUP has nudged Sinn Féin —
Mr Kennedy: I remind the Member that one of the big hits that The Police had went:
“Every move you make … every step you take”.
Mr Hamilton: “I’ll be watching you” — that was the one.
Obviously, Mr Kennedy, another old boy, does remember them from the first time around. Anyway, it is another surprising sign of Sinn Féin’s support for the police.
However, in all seriousness, this is a matter on which there is insufficient community confidence at present. Sinn Féin and the republican movement could take many significant steps to assist in building that confidence, not least by addressing the issue of the IRA army council.
There is no agreement as to how, under what format, or according to which model policing and justice powers should be devolved. Recommendation 20 in the report shows that. As other Members have said today, at this stage, there is no favourable financial resource situation for the police in Northern Ireland. Issue 4 in the report concentrates on that matter. As has been mentioned, there is a deficit of almost £90 million in the police budget for the CSR period. That major issue would have to be overcome.
I say to the Government — and send a message to the NIO — that pressure will not work. Publishing legislation is a tactic that they have tried before and which has failed. It will not work this time either. Instead of wasting time publishing legislation on something that will not happen, they would be much better dealing with some of the other issues in respect of policing and justice that are much needed in Northern Ireland.
The DUP will not be bullied into a position that is not right, or into moving at the wrong time, on an issue of this magnitude.
Mr Kennedy: I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in this important debate. I offer my congratulations to the new Chairperson of the Assembly and Executive Review Committee, Mr Spratt. I wish him well and look forward to working with him in the Committee on this and other important issues. I also take the opportunity — though I am not supposed to, because such people are supposed to remain “invisible” — to pay tribute to the Committee Clerk and the officials of the Committee for all their hard work in preparing and compiling the report.
At the beginning of the year, the then junior Minister, who has since resigned, said that he was prepared to offer what he called leadership on policing and justice matters. Given that that was not just any Minister, but the son of the First Minister and, in effect, his strong right arm and, in many ways, his political alter ego, many of us sat up and listened because we recognised the early warning signs of what appeared to be DUP delivery on yet another DUP/Sinn Féin side deal from the time of the St Andrews Agreement. Given the revelations that followed a freedom of information inquiry by the leader of Traditional Unionist Voice, Jim Allister MEP, it appeared that the then junior Minister was, in effect, a Minister for side deals, particularly those with a North Antrim flavour. Leadership is a DUP-ism, or euphemism, for promising the electorate one thing and doing another. Of course, the DUP majors in breaking its word to the electorate.
The side deal’s choreography assumed even starker proportions when the Secretary of State, Shaun Woodward, produced yet another NIO poll, which suggested that the required majority of unionists in support of the devolution of policing and justice was now in place. Those of us who have been around this place for considerable time follow matters concerning such NIO polls with a high degree of cynicism. Northern Ireland Office polls are remarkable. They appear at auspicious moments and always supply information that staggers everyone and seems to contradict that which we mere mortals have encountered on the doorstep and in widespread consultation with constituents.
That poll may have been designed to stiffen the resolve of the DUP, which was surprised that the rest of us were somewhat cynical about the type of leadership that it had been offering on a broad range of subjects — most of which involved a fair degree of chuckling. The DUP was taken aback by the ferocity of the Ulster Unionist Party’s and others’ rejection of the need to devolve policing and justice powers.
Alternatively, the Northern Ireland Office poll may have just been part of the internal choreography of the devolution of policing and justice powers, in conjunction with the DUP offer of leadership, and other confidence-building measures.
Given the intensity of the electorate’s disengagement from the DUP — evidence of which we witnessed in Dromore — the party that has delivered for itself but not for Northern Ireland, and certainly not for unionism, has back-pedalled on its January 2008 offer of leadership on the devolution of policing and justice. That offer now appears to have been dumped, along with the junior Minister and the First Minister. In the coming months, it will be interesting to discover who and what else the DUP dumps. The Maze stadium appears to be the next casualty. Perhaps Minister Poots had better watch out.
The former Chairperson of the Assembly and Executive Review Committee — who is now a junior Minister — appears to be the doyen of policy dumpers. The former junior Minister offered leadership. His replacement offers a U-turn — but U-turns are that man’s speciality.
The U-turn on the devolution of policing and justice is presented in the inventive language used by, and associated with, the DUP’s Robinsonian wing. Instead of offering leadership, it tells us that the time is not right. I am told that, in Civil Service speak, that means that the matter is dead. I have no problem with that. As far as I am concerned, the matter could be as dead as a dodo, because I believe that there is no appetite in the unionist community for the devolution of policing and justice. We have often heard that something might be too little, too late. The devolution of policing and justice is too much, too soon.
In recent days, Sinn Fein’s posturing over the issue of neutral environments, and the ludicrous and provocative proposal to celebrate the life of a dangerous and murderous terrorist in this Building’s Long Gallery, is evidence that Northern Ireland is not yet ready for the devolution of the controversial matter of policing and justice.
Perhaps those backward-looking gestures by Sinn Féin are a fit of pique because the DUP is not delivering on the St Andrews side deal, for the introduction of which the former junior Minister was offering leadership. Whatever the truth of the matter, it will be good if this devolutionary move is postponed until such time as confidence exists in the unionist community that Sinn Féin is not just carrying on the war by other means.
Mr Durkan: I join with others in commending the Assembly and Executive Review Committee for the work that is reflected in its report. I congratulate the Chairperson of the Committee, who has arrived here today in the style of Janet Webb, the woman who appeared at the end of Morecambe and Wise shows and said:
“I’d like to thank you for watching me and my little show here tonight. If you’ve enjoyed it, then it’s all been worthwhile. So until we meet again, goodnight, and I love you all!”
A very good job he made of it. [Laughter.] It was his Janet Webb spot today on behalf of the Committee and the report.
In considering the volume of work that is represented in the report, one can see that it records a wide-ranging consensus, and that a lot of the technical and procedural matters therein are not particularly contentious. The more the parties have examined the issues, the more layers of agreement and understanding have built up. Even on questions concerning the number of Departments or Ministers, on which there used to be a wider variety of views and options being expressed by parties, there is much more crystallisation, and that represents progress.
One of the benefits to have arisen from this issue so far is that it has been addressed by a Committee of this Assembly, even if not necessarily in a whole-hearted, fully-engaged way. All the parties are dealing with it in a competent, responsible manner. Devolution of justice and policing has benefited from being part of the working agenda of these institutions and of all political parties.
On previous occasions in this process, when serious issues like this were dealt with through side deals and rival side deals between different parties and the two Governments, we ended up with bad processes, bad politics and bad outcomes. The more that the situation becomes one in which the process is the institutions and the institutions are the process, the more we will take things forward. It is important that we do not mark the end of consensus, agreement and understanding on the devolution of justice and policing with this debate and by meeting the 27 March deadline for submitting a report.
The DUP asserted over a number of years that it would be a political lifetime — indeed members of the DUP competed over how many political lifetimes it might take — before devolution of justice and policing could take place. One does not know whether the lifetime referred to is an Ian Paisley Snr political lifetime, or an Ian Paisley Jnr ministerial lifetime. I hope that it is the latter, and that we get there soon, because this community needs to see us get there.
This is meant to be a legislative Assembly, yet the range of matters on which we can legislate suffers from a huge deficit as we are not actually able to legislate on areas of criminal law. Even on many of the public service and other public policy matters on which we can legislate, we are limited and tethered in the degree to which we can do so. We are also limited and compromised in the degree to which we can implement the full spirit and intent of that legislation, because we do not have the complete suite of devolved powers and functions.
When one considers important issues such as drug abuse, antisocial behaviour or road safety — which involve so many of the existing devolved Departments and agencies, but also need the necessary co-operation, involvement and pro-activity of the police service — it is clear that the picture is incomplete as far as devolution and accountable public policy are concerned. That needs to improve, and that is why we need devolution of justice and policing sooner rather than later.
I hope that the new leader of the DUP will not make the mistake of brandishing that party’s veto by way of the triple lock — or a quadruple lock, as some DUP MPs described it during the legislation’s progress through Westminster. Another DUP MP said that it was not a quadruple lock; it was a double-double lock. Whatever it was, it amounted to a DUP veto that that party was very happy with. We are stuck with that DUP veto. At least Sinn Féin now recognises that fact, having spent 2006 and 2007 denying that it existed, and having insisted that legislation created a certainty of the devolution of justice and policing when it deliberately did not.
I say to the DUP: do not get stuck with that veto for long. There are lessons for the new DUP leader from David Trimble’s mistake of buying the false argument — put forward by people such as Jonathan Powell — that there was profit for him in creating uncertainty around these institutions, that he could either unite dissenting voices in his party, or that it would give him some other sort of leverage in the process that he could use as bargaining power. That uncertainty damaged the institutions, and, as it was indulged for too long, ended up damaging David Trimble and his party. I hope that the new leader of the DUP will recognise that it is important to move sooner rather than later on the issue of the devolution of justice and policing, not just to confirm his or her own proper authority, but to confirm the true authority and competence of these arrangements.
In a situation in which we are trying to attract new investment and are looking forward to the investment conference, it is wrong to create such an air of uncertainty around some fundamental political matters. It is also important that the DUP and the Ulster Unionists look past testing Sinn Féin on its latest condemnation of republican dissident activity, or how it calls for co-operation with the police. If we all want to unite to defy and deny the agenda of the so-called dissident republicans, we should achieve the devolution of justice and policing as soon as possible, because they are stuck in the old Provo-speak groove of talking about Crown forces and British police forces. So long as we do not have the devolution of justice and policing, we play onside their foul agenda.
Mr Storey: I welcome Mr Spratt to his new position, and commend him. I will not concur with the comments made by the previous contributor unless Mr Spratt assumes that particular role.
I welcome the substantial documents that we have in front of us today, although some might question whether there is much of substance in them. We must, however, face up to the fact that although the Committee has produced its report — on which it has done a substantial amount of work — it cannot create the circumstances in which the step towards the devolution of policing and justice can be made.
Such a step can only be taken at the right time and under the right circumstances. From a unionist perspective, and in the views of those people whom I represent, there is no such circumstance at the moment, despite NIO polls and the words of those who try to convey to us that there is widespread acceptance in the community for the devolution of policing and justice powers. The reality, when I am in my constituency, is that that is not the case.
There are some who, laughably, try to tell us that the circumstances are right, and that now is the right time. Among those adopting that position are the Secretary of State, and, unsurprisingly, the Sinn Féin/NIO alliance, which tells us that everyone is happy and ready to move. However, that is simply not the case. That fact is also acknowledged by the Ulster Unionist Party, and I am glad about that, because it has not always done so. Mr Kennedy’s contribution was more about berating the DUP and trying to put some political spin on his position rather than debating policing and justice.
Mr Hamilton: The Member will have noted that I tried to intervene during the speech that was made by the deputy leader of the Ulster Unionist Party — I will put the question to you instead, Mervyn. I was going to ask Mr Kennedy whether he could explain — [Interruption.]
Mr Storey: OK. I’ll be Danny Kennedy.
Mr Deputy Speaker: Order. Mr Hamilton, please direct your comments through the Chair, and not to another Member.
Mr Hamilton: I apologise. I wanted to ask Mr Kennedy whether there was an explanation for the comments that were made by the Ulster Unionist Party representative at a meeting of the Transitional Assembly’s Sub-Group on Policing and Justice Matters in December 2006, when he said:
“if the barrier to Sinn Féin announcing support for the police was removed and devolution is restored, this could provide the necessary confidence.”
Today, Ulster Unionist Members have repeatedly voiced their opposition to the devolution of policing and justice because they claim that the necessary confidence does not exist. However, in 2006, the UUP representative on the Preparation for Government Committee said that, under certain circumstances, policing and justice would be devolved. Those circumstances are in place now, so perhaps the Member could explain his party’s opposition.
Mr Storey: I thank my honourable friend for that intervention.
Remember the former leader of the Ulster Unionist Party — if my history is right, I think he was called David Trimble —
Mr Simpson: Who?
Mr Storey: He is the long-since-forgotten former leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, but the legacy that he left this country is not forgotten. Remember that, had we remained under David Trimble’s leadership and direction, policing and justice would have been devolved already. We do not take lectures from the Ulster Unionist Party about U-turns because there have been so many U-turns in the history of the Ulster Unionist Party that they would fill the Chamber.
Mr B McCrea: Who is Paisley?
Mr Storey: Dr Paisley is the leader of this party, who — despite all the failures of the Ulster Unionist Party — has brought this country to where it is today.
Yesterday, David Burnside said in the Chamber:
“I am not giving way to Paisleyites”. — [Official Report, Bound Volume 28, p242, col 2].
Unfortunately, Mr Burnside is not even in the Chamber today to listen to a Paisleyite — he very seldom is.
Lord Morrow: He does not do Tuesdays.
Mr Storey: My friend is right; Mr Burnside does not do Tuesdays. I am sure, however, that he is glad that his party has listened to the DUP. It will stick in his big-house-unionist, fur-coat-brigade-unionism craw that the DUP will not change its position on this matter.
Having said enough about the Ulster Unionist Party, at least for now, I turn my attention to the SDLP. I will keep the other party until last.
In its submission to the ‘Report on the Inquiry into the Devolution of Policing and Justice Matters’ the SDLP stated — and Mr Durkan has confirmed that position today — that:
“The SDLP is concerned at the veto acquired by the DUP over the devolution of justice…The SDLP believes that this veto should be removed”.
Who gained that veto? It was not the Ulster Unionist Party. Who ensured that the issue of policing and justice, and support for the rule of law, was put on the table? It was not the Ulster Unionist Party; they forgot about the police. Remember Lord Maginness — who had the ambitions of a field marshal and the ability of a field mouse — [Laughter.]
He was the person who tried to wash his hands of the changing of the name of the RUC.
Mr Hamilton: He was responsible for 50:50 recruitment as well.
Mr Storey: That is correct. Now, I turn my attention to Sinn Féin. Unfortunately, the Education Minister is not present in the Chamber. However, let me say —
Mr Brady: Your time is up.
Mr Storey: I have 45 seconds left.
Sinn Féin faces a big challenge in ensuring that the unionist community is sufficiently confident to move forward on this issue. For example, Sinn Féin created the problem around parading, and they are failing miserably in helping to resolve that problem. Sinn Féin must deal with that issue.
I must have an extra minute, so I will continue. My community has no confidence in a party that cannot go to the police in the Short Strand and have a public meeting without orchestrating disruption. It has no confidence in a party that cannot come clean about the murder of Paul Quinn, and it has no confidence in a party whose Minister — Conor Murphy — tells us that he has met illegal IRA terrorists, but is not prepared to give their names to the police. We need to have that confidence, and the party opposite must ensure that we get that so that we can move forward.
Mr Deputy Speaker: Your time is up. I will decide how much time you have, Mr Storey.
Mr B McCrea: On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Mervyn Storey criticised all the parties in the Chamber except Mr Neeson’s party. Is that appropriate under section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998?
Mr Deputy Speaker: Order. That is not a point of order.
Ms Ní Chuilín: Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. I too thank the Committee staff, and the Clerk in particular, for producing the report. I genuinely welcome Jimmy Spratt as the new Chairperson of the Assembly and Executive Review Committee. It will be a baptism of fire for him. There are plenty of issues to be resolved, and confidence is one of them.
I was tempted to pass remarks on some comments that you made, Mervyn Storey, but I will leave those for another day.
Mr Deputy Speaker: Order. Please address your remarks through the Chair.
Ms Ní Chuilín: With your indulgence, a LeasCheann Comhairle, I do not mind being told off, as long as my point has been made.
I look forward to the SDLP proposing its amendments at Westminster. The SDLP has been doing a lot of sabre-rattling — one is tempted to say all fluff and no stuff — but we will simply have to wait and see. Everyone agrees that, since the St Andrews Agreement, the political landscape here has been transformed. More often than not, most Members try to have sensible debates about issues that affect people’s lives, such as anti-poverty strategies, suicide prevention and support in our communities. We all recognise that we have a role to play in those issues.
The DUP has entered into power-sharing institutions for the first time. We now have an inclusive Government, which, for all intents and purposes, is enjoying the support of the whole community.
A Member: Apart from Sean Neeson.
Ms Ní Chuilín: Yes, apart from that other party, as Basil McCrea said when he mentioned section 75. However, the essence of what I am trying to say is that all parties represented in the Chamber are involved in making decisions and in contributing to those decisions — if not in Government, then certainly in Committees. There is no need to be crass.
We have enjoyed a lot of international goodwill. The need to attract inward investment has been mentioned in various debates, and mention has been made of the investment conference that will take place here in May. That will coincide with the timetable for the transfer of policing and justice powers set out in St Andrews. Central to our task are creating opportunities, promoting job creation and building our economy. We must demonstrate that the days of political instability have passed for good. The transfer of policing and justice powers would be a clear demonstration by political leaders that the institutions are stable and will be long-lasting.
Mr Storey: The Member stated that the institutions will be “long-lasting”, and I welcome that comment. However, in the report’s minutes of evidence for 23 October 2007, the Member said:
“by 2016, God knows who will be here.”
In the same minutes of evidence, her colleague Mr O’Dowd said:
“To confuse matters even more, we could set up a ministry that would then be scrutinised by the efficiency review panel in 2016 or earlier. We could introduce an interim arrangement that could be changed again by future Administrations.”
Given that those two Sinn Féin MLAs have been preparing for a devolved Northern Ireland Administration long before 2016, does the Member not think that it would be more honest if she were to tell the rest of her party that the pipe dream of establishing a united Ireland by 2016 is now out the window? Judging by those comments, I think that Sinn Féin is not even preparing for it.
Ms Ní Chuilín: Drat, I am absolutely caught out by that one. I thank Mervyn Storey — through the Deputy Speaker — for that history lesson. Mervyn is consistent; we always get a bit of crack out of him —
Mr Storey: Crack is an illegal substance that you are not allowed to take, Carál.
A Member: Perhaps she should try it.
Ms Ní Chuilín: God loves a trier. I am confident that there will be a united Ireland. As sure as the day is Tuesday, there will be a united Ireland — and Mervyn Storey can quote that. Unlike Danny Kennedy and David Burnside, I do not mind Mondays, and I also do Tuesdays.
We need to demonstrate to the world that there is an opportunity to come here and that this place is worth investing in. We need to plan for a better future and show that we have moved on and copper fastened the peace process. Despite all the nonsense in the House, we now have democratic accountability and political institutions, and we need to work towards better political stability, without which there will be no economic stability and no investment for our economy. One cannot be separated from the other. The DUP needs to step up to the mark. It is not a question of “if” — it is a question of “when”. The Assembly needs to send out a clear message to the voters that we are here to do a job and that we are capable of doing that job. The House needs to hold the PSNI to account and examine issues such as bail for repeat offenders. Members are sending out the wrong message to constituents. All parties represented on the Assembly and Executive Review Committee have shown a willingness to deal with the issue. Everything is ready to transfer policing and justice powers into the hands of locally elected representatives. We now need to demonstrate political will, and the DUP needs to have the confidence to accept the challenge and move ahead. Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle.
Mr Neeson: Several Members have referred to the report as the all-party report, which is rubbish; it is not an all-party report. No member of the Alliance Party or the United Community group participated in the Committee, and that is a great weakness in the report.
The report illustrates the divisions that still exist in the Assembly. If policing and justice powers are to be devolved, the Assembly must provide stable government. However, that is not the case, as last week’s events clearly demonstrate. The debacle over the Mairéad Farrell ceremony clearly shows that the glorification of terrorism is not the way forward for the Assembly. Furthermore, it clearly demonstrates the great division that still exists between Sinn Féin and the DUP.
One very clear upshot of that event is that, if Members wish to sponsor an event in Parliament Buildings, they require three signatures to demonstrate cross-community support. I supported that decision in the Commission. However, yesterday, my colleague Kieran McCarthy submitted an application form for an event, with three signatures from people of different backgrounds, which was turned down because the three signatures came from Members from the cross-community Alliance Party. That is a wake-up call for the Assembly. It shows clearly that, if the Assembly is to create stable Government, it must be based on consensus.
I turn to the composition of the existing Policing Board. When Ian Paisley Jnr was reappointed to the board, he stated that he was there to provide a strong voice for unionism. Does that imply that we are moving towards political policing?
I served on the former Police Authority for Northern Ireland for two terms, before and after the ceasefire. Before the ceasefire, the Northern Ireland Office was prepared to use Alliance Party members to serve on the Police Authority but, post-devolution, the Alliance Party is not represented, and I view that as a democratic deficit in respect of the current Policing Board.
The Alliance Party strongly believes in the devolution of policing and justice powers to the Assembly. I hope that that will come sooner rather than later. If devolution is to happen, the confidence must be created in our society for the public to support it, although I accept that recent opinion polls clearly suggest that people are moving towards accepting the devolution of those powers.
Last week during Question Time I asked the First Minister a question about ending automatic 50% remission for prisoners. That should be a matter for the Assembly to deal with, rather than an excepted matter. I agree entirely with what Basil McCrea said about RUC Reserve pensions. That issue must be addressed by the British Treasury before the devolution of powers.
Many people have asked whether a deal was done at St Andrews. For me, the most significant thing about St Andrews was the fact that the DUP, at long last, endorsed the Good Friday Agreement, and I welcome that very much.
Some Members: Hear, hear.
Some Members: Rubbish.
Mr Neeson: When devolution of policing and justice powers takes place, the Assembly will have to address some serious issues — none more serious than finance. It is true that finance was never a problem during the Troubles because we were dealing with terrorism. It was clear that that was the number one priority for the Government to address. However, we are moving into a new dispensation, and the entire issue of fixing and sticking to budgets will be important.
When I was a member of the Police Authority, I visited several constabularies in other parts of the UK. As Jimmy Spratt will know, the ratio of police officers to the general population in those areas was much smaller than that in Northern Ireland. That matter will need to be addressed.
Finally, there has been talk of having two Ministers for policing and justice. In the Alliance Party’s view, that is not on — there should be one ministerial post. A couple of years ago, we found ourselves in a crazy situation when a decision was made to create a new city in each part of the United Kingdom. The Government could not nominate one area in Northern Ireland; they had to create two cities — Newry and Lisburn.
We must get away from the practice of duplicating roles in order to satisfy different communities and political parties.
Mr Shannon: I support the motion. I congratulate my colleague Jimmy Spratt on his elevation to the position of Chairperson of the Assembly and Executive Review Committee, and I wish him well for the future.
Policing and justice is undoubtedly a sensitive matter in Northern Ireland. Our troubled past means that the issue is not as straightforward as it is in other devolved parts of the UK. I would love to be able to say that we have reached a stage where we can handle all policing and justice matters. However, the bare fact is that some people in Northern Ireland have not made their intentions clear enough or their commitments sure enough for us to bring those matters into the hands of those in this Chamber. We therefore read the report with a sceptical eye to see what recommendations were agreed and what they might mean to the people of Northern Ireland.
Ther er o’ coorse issies whuch sum fin tae be argimentive. Metters o’ national security er deald wi iver aw bi UK Giverment wi’ oot oany input bi this Chamber.
This tae me wud seem common sense an yit there r fowk whua feel that they shud hae tha final sae aboot aw whut gangs oan in the Proavinse. This isnae tha wae nor wull it iver be.
Whun aw the stanin an playin wi woards is din this is yin impoartint fact an that is we stae a’ pert o’ tha UK & Nth Ireland, an in sic metters we hae oor richt no oanly tae spake an direct oan but whuch will richtfully stae in tha hans o’ thaa Hoose o’ Commons — in whuch we hae guid an muckle representatshun.
There are issues that some people find to be contentious but that I find to be common sense. For example, matters of national security are dealt with entirely by UK-wide governance and without interference from anyone in this Chamber. That seems common sense to me, yet some people believe that they should have the final say on anything that happens in the Province. However, that is not the way it is, nor the way it will be.
When all the posturing and wordplay is done, there is one immutable fact: we remain part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and, as such, there are matters about which we will have our democratic right to speak and provide guidance on but that will rightfully remain with the House of Commons, where we have ample representation.
On the whole, the report had a common-sense attitude to most matters. It considered the input of the various bodies that had attended Committee meetings and took on board the recommendations of the Northern Ireland Office, among others. I am not known for my negativity — indeed, quite the opposite — and I do not deem myself to be negative in saying that some people have amply displayed, through emotive language and actions and political point scoring, that we are not in a position to implement full devolution of policing and justice to the Province. I am merely being factual when I state that.
When Members consider Northern Ireland’s current situation, it is clear that we have come a long way. However, we have not yet completed that journey. Confidence in some sections of the House is still not sufficient to engender the belief that we are ready for devolution of those powers. Indeed, we need look no further than the attempted honouring of an IRA terrorist in a public, shared space to see that it is valid to doubt whether some people have stepped far enough from their past deeds to be able to determine matters of policing and justice rationally and objectively. One need only read the Official Report of the debate on the burning of Orange Halls to see why there is no confidence and to see how things must be changed in order to improve unionist confidence before the powers in question can be devolved.
I consider the report to be objective and well considered in that respect, given that it does not give a definitive time frame for the full devolution of powers. It is an unfortunate fact that the rest of this journey can go only at a pace that is set by those who attempt to instil confidence by showing a complete removal from past atrocities. Last week’s events highlight the distance that must be travelled and the pace that has been set thus far, and they also suggest that a longer journey in confidence building is required.
The policy of 50:50 recruitment to the PSNI is one of the unspeakable wrongs of this Province, given that it has resulted in the exclusion of able and experienced people primarily because of their religious persuasion. We want that to be changed so that young Protestants can apply for jobs in the police and have their opportunities and pedigree considered on an equitable basis, rather than on the basis of where they go on a Sunday or where they hang their hat.
Many young men and women have spoken to me about the issue, and the quicker it is sorted out, the better.
The report shows how Northern Ireland would benefit in many ways in its day-to-day running were it to have greater legislative power over situations. However, there is an overarching concern that cannot be overlooked. There has been some talk about opinion polls today. The opinion polls carried out by the Secretary of State show that there is a downward turn in the number of people who agree that policing and justice should be devolved. Indeed, opinion polls are showing a move in the opposite direction. The rise in the number of undecided Committee members shows that there is more confusion and not more confidence.
It is clear that the unionist population has significantly less belief that policing and justice should be devolved at present, and 11% more people are saying that it should not be devolved. Until that situation is resolved and the general public have more confidence, I am not willing to undertake that step on behalf of my constituents who are telling me how they feel.
Show me, my party and this Chamber the reasons why we should believe that there has been a change of attitude by those who breed mistrust and fear, and I will support devolution in totality. Until then, I concur with the report’s findings, and I agree that certain matters should be devolved while others should remain reserved for the time being and will be a matter for the House of Commons and our elected representatives to determine. None of the report’s findings can be implemented until there is a positive move to instil belief that Northern Ireland — and each Member in the Chamber — is ready, equipped and committed to deal properly with the devolution of policing and justice. That is not yet the case and, therefore, I firmly agree with the report’s findings and commend it to the Chamber.
Mr Attwood: I acknowledge the work of the outgoing Chairperson of the Committee, who conducted it with no little skill, and I welcome Mr Spratt. I also acknowledge the work of the Committee staff. I do not know whether Committee members would agree with me, but I found the experience a curious mixture of shadow-boxing, paint drying, capacity building and some political maturing; and, for all of that, it was a useful experience.
Given that matters remain unresolved, the SDLP is calling for round-table political negotiations at the earliest possible opportunity to resolve the outstanding matters identified in the report, and any other matters that are beginning to invade the space of the Assembly. If we do not get a grip on those matters we may lose the grip on many others, which we can ill-afford to do.
If we are to go into those negotiations, we must clear some of the fog around the devolution of policing and justice. Some of that has been outlined already. It is inconsistent to share policing and political responsibility but not share responsibility for justice. Setting aside the issue of confidence, if people in the North were asked how they would reconcile sharing policing and political powers and yet deny the opportunity to share justice power, they would say that it does not make sense. The DUP must gets its head round that.
I listened to a DUP Member quote what someone in the UUP said in 2006. Peter Robinson said in 2004 that the devolution of policing and justice powers was “no big move”. If it was “no big move” four years ago — and before the IRA had done all that it has now done — how is it such a big move now? The DUP will have to face up to that fact in the forthcoming negotiations.
Sinn Féin must also face up to some issues. We have heard on the Floor of this Chamber today no less a person than Gerry Adams saying that he accepts Mark Durkan’s argument of the past two years that the DUP has a veto on the devolution of policing and justice. Alex Maskey said to the people of the North two weeks ago that there would be devolution in May because the British Government had legislated for it to happen. Two weeks later, Sinn Féin is conceding that that is not the case. Although Sinn Féin secured legislation that gave the Secretary of State the power to define the model of devolution, it failed in its negotiations to take away the triple-lock veto that the DUP negotiated before then.
Therefore, if parties are to continue to negotiate, the DUP must accept that Peter Robinson has stated that the devolution of policing and justice powers is “no big move” for unionists. The DUP must recognise that it is inconsistent to share political power and the responsibility for policing while resisting the devolution of justice powers.
For once, Sinn Féin must be honest with its constituents — if not the entire community in the North — about the true nature of the debate. I want to put down some markers, not about the timing of devolution of justice, but about the nature of it when it happens. Despite all the good that will come from the Assembly having the power to legislate for the needs of its people, black holes exist in the platform for the devolution of justice.
The first and largest black hole is the lack of additional oversight of MI5, which will be no more accountable for its actions in the North than in Britain. That will come back to haunt the Assembly.
The second black hole will be created when, on 1 April 2008, the Assets Recovery Agency in the North will be abolished and the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) will take over its responsibilities. In the fullness of time, SOCA’s energy and resources will drift towards dealing with the international threat and not the domestic threat of organised crime that endures in this part of Ireland.
Even if policing and justice powers were to be devolved on 1 May or at the end of May 2008, a third black hole will appear. At the moment of devolution, the North/South justice agreement will fall, leaving the citizens of the North and South of this island vulnerable, because the shared strategies to address justice issues, including the protection of vulnerable adults and children, will have disappeared.
A fourth black hole will be created because, despite what the Committee has said, two of the parties in the Chamber will, sooner or later, take power away from the policing structures and centralise it in Assembly Committees and Ministries. In doing so, they will rewrite Patten and upset the delicate balance of relationships with the police in this part of Ireland, which many have struggled for so long to achieve. I warn against allowing that to happen.
Martina Anderson rightly berated the DUP for its inconsistent strategy, whereby it is willing to share policing and political powers but refuses to share justice powers. I would credit that argument with more sincerity had Martina Anderson not proceeded to highlight the inconsistency in Sinn Féin’s argument. I ask people to read a submission from the family of Robert McCartney on page 86 of volume 2 of the Committee’s report. The family made the submission last autumn, but it could have been repeated every month since:
“the continued refusal of Sinn Féin to cooperate with the PSNI in relation to Robert’s murder signals an ‘a la carte’ approach to policing.”
An à la carte approach to policing, justice or political responsibility must not be allowed to exist in the Chamber — and Sinn Féin must face up to that.
Mr Deputy Speaker: Order. The Member’s time is up.
Mr Simpson: It is only fitting that I echo other Members’ acknowledgement of the work of the Committee, its staff and outgoing Chairman. Members who read the Committee’s report will see what a good job he did. I welcome my colleague Jimmy Spratt to his new position as Chairman of the Assembly and Executive Review Committee.
A major reality check is required, and many outstanding matters continue to raise questions that demand urgent answers. As I read, the text of the report makes it clear that public confidence is required before policing and justice powers can be devolved — a point that many Members made during the debate.
It is also evident that it will not be the NIO, but local politicians, who will decide whether sufficient public confidence exists when they are convinced that it does. That will occur, not because the NIO points at statistics and pie charts, but through interaction between local politicians and their constituents over time.
Several factors would assist the creation of that confidence. Among them is the question of the law-abiding character of republicans, how they demonstrate that, and their willingness to live side by side with their Protestant and unionist neighbours. Other matters include the so-called army council; a resolution on attacks on Orange Halls, the communities that use them, and Orange parades; proper co-operation with the police, such as giving evidence and encouraging people to join the police.
Other issues relate to the proper, efficient and coherent working of the Executive. That raises questions of the SDLP and the Ulster Unionist Party. Those parties have set out to create instability in the Executive over the Budget and the Programme for Government. Can the Assembly really imagine policing and justice being devolved into that kind of atmosphere? Certain parties must take serious steps before those powers can be devolved.
Other factors that emerge from the report must also be highlighted. I refer particularly to a range of matters on which parties are still a long way from agreement. The Assembly could never progress towards devolution of those matters without further discussion. Three of the ministerial options that are identified in the report depend entirely on a joint nomination by the First Minister and the deputy First Minister. Recommendation 19 simply refers to the need for further discussions between political parties. What happens if there is no agreed position from OFMDFM? What happens if a single party does not reach agreement?
What happens if parties cannot agree on recommendation 20 — on the number of Departments? The Assembly is faced with the same problem with regard to recommendation 21 and the appointment of the Attorney General; recommendation 35 and the independence of the Court Service; recommendation 38 on North/South matters; and recommendation 40 on financial provisions. The Assembly could discuss those matters all afternoon. All of them are dependent on agreement after further political negotiations. While no agreement exists on any or all of those matters, how can the Assembly contemplate devolving those powers?
Let me turn to other considerations. Recommendation 30 states:
“appointments to the Office of the Police Ombudsman should be examined by political parties, initially, before the devolution of policing and justice matters.”
It does not say that agreement must be reached, but only that matters that relate to appointments should be examined initially. Should the Assembly devolve those powers with such matters still outstanding?
Much work still needs to be done. There is too little clarity, too many outstanding matters, too great an amount of work for republicans still to do, and too few people have the confidence to move forward with the devolution of those powers.
Alex Maskey said that Sinn Féin had taken the “historic decision” to join the Policing Board and the DPPs. Does he want a medal for that? Considering the 35 to 40 years of hell on earth that was perpetrated against the people on both sides of the community, Sinn Féin’s support for policing is long overdue. More evidence of that support is required, rather than the organisation that they represent blowing police officers’ brains out on a weekly basis. It was regrettable that he had to say that.
The devolution of policing and justice powers is a long way off.
Mr Deputy Speaker: The Member’s time is up.
Lord Morrow: This has been an interesting debate, if only for the fact that there has been a finger-pointing exercise across the whole House. We have been urged by some Members to say that the devolution of policing and justice powers should take place tomorrow. However, a number of reasons have been given as to why those powers should not be devolved. Those reasons were given not only by the DUP, but — significantly — by the SDLP, the Ulster Unionist Party and the Alliance Party.
I was struck by what Alex Attwood said. He was at pains to quote that the McCartney family had said in its submission to the Assembly and Executive Review Committee:
“the continued refusal of Sinn Féin to cooperate with the PSNI in relation to Robert’s murder signals an ‘a la carte’ approach to policing.”
I was pleased that he referred to that. However, I am not sure whether he advocated what they said as a reason that policing and justice powers should be devolved, or whether he used it as an example of why those powers should not be devolved. What conclusion does he draw from what they said? That is one of the reasons why powers should not be devolved.
Policing and justice powers will not be devolved unless, and until, all parties sign up to abide by the rule of law and order, which is a simple issue. However, alas, that is not the case, because there are parties in the Assembly that claim to be democrats, but, frankly, are quite happy to take on the mantle of being something other than that when it suits them. It is like running with a hare and hunting with a hound. I once said that putting Sinn Féin in charge of policing would be:
“the equivalent of putting a fox in charge of the chicken coop.”
It would not be long until they would be in progging and taking a few for themselves, as the saying goes.
Mr Durkan and Mr Attwood should set aside their self-righteous mantle and stop giving prolific lectures, particularly to the unionist community and its representatives. They say that we are holding up progress on the devolution of policing and justice and that we are not allowing it to happen. For once, they have got it right; that is what we are doing, and we will to continue to do so.
I suspect that policing and justice powers will not be devolved this year, during the term of this Assembly and maybe not even in the lifetime of anyone in the Chamber today. People may question why I say that. The answer is simple; it is because I listen to and watch the antics of the Provos and Sinn Féin. They play a sort of fast-and-loose game. One day, they are great democrats, and the next day, they are street fighters who will cover up for, and give assistance to, those who carry out deadly deeds.
How many Sinn Féin Members have, to date, gone to their local PSNI station and given all the information that they have about the brutal slaughter of Paul Quinn? Some of them, however, went and talked to the IRA.
Who is in charge of security here? Is it the local Provos in south Armagh, who control that area with an iron fist? Or is it the local PSNI? One day, Sinn Féin says that it backs the police. The next day, Sinn Féin Members stand up, pontificate, and say that Paul Quinn was not murdered by the IRA. They must be —
Mr O’Dowd: Will the Member give way?
Lord Morrow: I will give way in a second or two.
Sinn Féin Members must be about the only people on this planet who believe that. If they think that that sort of rhetoric will instil confidence in the unionist community, not only are they not at the match; they are not even turning up.
Mr O’Dowd: Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. I thank the Member for giving way. I will ignore the rhetoric around what the Member said.
The garda detective in charge of the Paul Quinn murder investigation has stated that, in their inquiries — assisted by the PSNI — in the north and south Armagh areas, they have taken 1,200 statements and visited 400 homes. They were warmly invited into every one of those homes, which included republican homes.
Lord Morrow: What the Member said is contrary to what the Quinn family says about the murder of its — [Interruption.]
I did give way, and the Member got the opportunity to say what he wanted to. It was not very convincing, I might add.
The Quinn family would say something distinctly different. It is commonly known that the IRA is still very much in control of the south Armagh area. We — [Interruption.]
What about the McCartney family, then, if you did not kill Paul Quinn? Let us leave that issue there.
Let us go back to just a few days ago, to see how Sinn Féin builds confidence in the unionist community. Sinn Féin Members had the audacity to come into this Assembly and declare that they wanted to have a day to remember a very prominent lady; someone who had achieved great feats in Northern Ireland. They chose Mairéad Farrell —a bomber. She was a person who was taken out of society on her way to kill. Sinn Féin says that that is how it will instil confidence into the unionist community — by commemorating such people and holding them up as icons.
Sinn Féin has a long road yet to travel. It has more miles to go, and it has not been very convincing to date. If Sinn Féin thinks that giving a two-fingered sign to the unionist community at each and every opportunity is the way to instil confidence in unionist people, it must, please, start thinking differently.
Mr Storey: Will the Member give way?
Lord Morrow: Yes, I will.
Mr Deputy Speaker: The Member’s time is up.
Mr Storey: I was not quick enough.
The Deputy Chairperson of the Assembly and Executive Review Committee (Mr McCartney): Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. Tá mé ag caint mar Leas-Chathaoirleach an choiste seo.
Before I reflect on the contributions to the debate, I want to acknowledge the skilful and professional way in which Jeffrey Donaldson, the former Chairperson of the Assembly and Executive Review Committee, conducted the proceedings of the Committee throughout this inquiry. For various reasons — as we have heard today throughout the debate — the devolution of policing and justice matters has been viewed by some as representing a risk to political developments. Others view it as providing an opportunity to secure political stability, so conducting the inquiry was always going to be a challenge.
I acknowledge that Jeffrey Donaldson, as Chairperson of the Committee, always showed the utmost respect to Committee members, and to witnesses who appeared before the Committee. On behalf of the rest of the Committee, I welcome his successor, the Member for South Belfast Mr Jimmy Spratt. I hope that he will emulate his party colleague.
I congratulate him on his appointment, and — dare I say it — he has made an admirable start. He came in blind over the weekend, but judging by the way that he guided us through the debate this morning, I have no doubt that he will continue the good work that Jeffrey Donaldson has been doing.
He rightly acknowledged the valuable contribution made by Committee members and those who gave written and oral evidence. There was also a telling contribution from Assembly staff, who did much to assist the Committee in its deliberations. The Assembly’s Research and Library Service provided excellent papers, and the Committee Clerk and his staff kept members fully informed and fully focused on the task, thereby ensuring that the Committee was able to report to the Assembly on time. I thank them for their professionalism, good nature and willing assistance. I am not sure whether patience is included in either the essential or desirable criteria for the job, but staff certainly showed patience in large measure.
We have heard a range of views expressed today, and I thank Members for their participation in the debate. It is not my intention to detail or summarise their contributions, except to say that over 21 Members contributed, and that there were three interventions, with a failed fourth attempt at an intervention at the end of the debate.
I want to address a point made by Dr Farry, and by his party colleague Sean Neeson. From the beginning, we realised that there was no one from the Alliance Party or the PUP on the Committee. Through the Chairperson, members ensured that representatives from those parties were asked to give evidence. David Ford and Stephen Farry provided evidence on behalf of the Alliance Party, and Dawn Purvis, Stewart Finn and David Rose provided evidence on behalf of the PUP. We welcomed their input, and that was our contribution towards ensuring that their voices were heard.
This morning, Stephen Farry projected to a time when the Alliance Party would be in Government — I think his words were “Our day will come.” I have heard him use the Irish language in the Chamber in the past. The Irish for “Our day will come” is —
Dr Farry: Tiocfaidh ár lá
Mr McCartney: Thanks very much.
All Members acknowledged the work that the Committee carried out, and no one spoke against any of the recommendations. It is also worth noting that Members took the time to read the very detailed and lengthy report. The merit star again goes to Mervyn Storey, who was able to quote from the report, line by line. We will have to be careful about what we say in the future, because he is certainly listening.
There were other common themes today. Everyone who spoke agreed that powers should be devolved — I do not think that anyone said otherwise. There was recognition of the benefits of locally elected representatives dealing with matters of justice and law and order. Alan McFarland mentioned some particular issues about which the public are concerned.
Members also recognised that effective governance measures are already in place in the Policing Board, the DPPs and so on, and that will add to the arrangements that we are working on now. There are budgetary issues, and the Committee accepted that those are, and will remain, fundamental to any transfer decisions.
There were some frustrations about issues that are not dealt with in the report — the number of Ministers, the timing and so on — but we did the work that we had to do. There can be a tendency towards a selective reading of the recommendations, and that was evident today in the reading of recommendation 41. I urge Members, when reading the recommendations, to also read the preceding paragraphs and to consider the report in general.
During the inquiry, the Committee heard that the “system” is already standing ready to give effect to the smooth transfer of policing and justice matters, should the Assembly request that transfer. Although the debate today confirms that there are different views about when that will happen, nevertheless, much work has already been carried out.
In his remarks this morning, the Chairperson rightly highlighted the fact that a significant part of the report deals with structure, relationships, governance and accountability in circumstances where policing and justice matters might be devolved. Indeed, the report contains a range of matters on which further work needs to be done. Although some of that work is administrative and can be addressed before or after the devolution of policing and justice matters, other aspects can be addressed only through discussion among the political parties. Common themes emerged around recommendations 19, 20, 40 and 41, and Members asked how we can take those forward. The answer is — through further discussion among the political parties.
Therefore, it is evident that the onus now rests on the political parties to build on the work that has been done so far by entering into discussions to reach agreement on the outstanding matters that are clearly identified in the report.
I commend the report to the House. Go raibh maith agat.
Question put and agreed to.
That this Assembly approves the report of the Assembly and Executive Review Committee relating to the devolution of policing and justice matters, and agrees that, as required by section 18 of the Northern Ireland (St. Andrews Agreement) Act 2006, it should be submitted to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, before 27 March 2008, as a report of the Northern Ireland Assembly.
Adjourned at 3.25 pm.